Ezra Levant: “I don’t believe hate speech is a crime”

“If you don’t ever feel hate, you have a broken personality,” says Canadian lawyer and publisher Ezra Levant.

In this interview with Free Speech Debate, Ezra Levant, a Canadian lawyer and publisher, slams Canada’s human rights commissions as “fake kangaroo courts” that “love counterfeit rights like the right to be offended”. Levant says he was the only person to be prosecuted in the west for re-publishing the Prophet Muhammad cartoons that were first printed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. For Levant, hate speech is not a crime or an offense. He says: “Hate’s a human emotion. If you don’t ever feel hate you have a broken personality. Everyone of us feels love and hate, contempt and respect probably every day.”

(Ezra Levant, right, photo by the University of Saskatchewan under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence.)

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  1. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    This is not the best argument against hate speech laws. Sure, we might all experience the feeling of hate, but this is irrelevant when discussing the efficacy of hate speech laws. Hate speech is usually defined along the lines of expressing racist or bigoted views which are intended to disparage or otherwise harm an individual or some specific group of people.

    Personal feelings of hate don’t necessarily imply the hate is directed at am individual or group of people due to racism or bigotry. There are many causes for the feeling of hatred. Even if the feelings do stem from racism or bigotry, expressing them in a public fashion is not absolutely required. Hate speech is only hate speech if you express those views to others with the intent of making them feel bad or uncomfortable in some way or another. Experiencing hate is a totally different issue and often has nothing to do with some sort of hateful outward expression, the actual target of hate speech laws.

    A much better argument against hate speech can be achieved by expressing legitimate concerns over allowing governments to define and enforce hate speech laws and by demonstrating how hate speech laws can be oppressive when enforced. Making arguments contending that hate speech laws are not effective in achieving the results which they are intended to is also a compelling way to challenge their legitimacy.

    Allowing governments to write arbitrary laws which limit their citizens’ right to say certain things is a dangerous precedent to set in terms of how much power we are allowing governments to have over individuals. If there are people who are going to face serious consequences due to the perceived violation of hate speech laws, we need to be incredibly skeptical of whether these laws are worth the trouble and potential human rights violations. The enforcement of laws which limit what people are allowed to say may not achieve much of anything other than the unnecessary oppression and punishment of people who would otherwise be law abiding citizens.

    Giving government the power to enforce laws that attempt to control what people say under threat of punishment is an incredibly scary prospect when you think about all the unintended consequences that can come about from allowing governments to have such a power. How are they going to decide how they are going to define hate speech? What if they do not even allow for satire? What if they define misgendering someone to be hate speech? What if they decide that even mistakes deserve consequences, such as how facebook enforces their hate speech policies? If these questions don’t alarm you, you must not be thinking about all the people who might have to experience unjust punishments when they didn’t even intend to break the law. Speech is a complicated thing, and trying to accurately define which speech is actually harmful, which speech is merely satire and which speech is just a misspoken sentiment is undeniably impossible to do without error.

    What constitutes an appropriate punishment for the violation of a hate speech law? Are simply expressing racist or bigoted views justifiably call for punishments which are severe, either in terms of jail time or significant financial penalties? Is it okay to cause significant financial harm to someone simply because they expressed a view which is regarded as hate speech by their government? Is locking someone in a cage really appropriate and ethical even if someone were actually expressing racist or otherwise bigoted points of view? I would say absolutely not, because the expression of hateful views, while certainly not acceptable and potentially harmful to others, are too easily misinterpreted to actually punish somebody over through laws and justice systems. If the punishments are not severe, how effective will they be at controlling behavior? Probably not very, which means we are talking exclusively about severe punishments that have the potential to cause significant damage to a person’s livelihood.

    Now, hate speech laws are typically implemented with the intention of reducing racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, and other kinds of hateful bigotry in a society. Could they ever actually achieve this intended goal, though? There is little reason to believe so. If laws against illegal drugs are not effective at reducing drug the use and distribution of them to levels that those who oppose the use of drugs would consider acceptable, speech laws, being more challenging to enforce, will have even less fruitful results. People aren’t going to magically decide to no longer be racist or bigoted just because expressing such views are now outlawed. We cannot control what people believe, and attempting to by punishing those who get caught expressing such beliefs is simply a futile endeavor, destined to ultimately fail due to not being reasonably enforceable.

    And we must weigh the pros and cons of having such laws. Is it truly worth oppressing people and potentially causing harm to people who aren’t even truly racist or bigoted? Does allowing governments to have such powerful control over individuals to such a great extent truly make it worth it for the unlikely possibility that racism and bigotry will actually be reduced in any significant way? Even if such laws are successful at reducing the outward expression of racism and bigotry, are we sure it’s worth the likely unethical unintended consequences just to live in a society where racist and bigoted individuals tend to keep quiet about their beliefs? How anybody could sincerely think these laws have fair or necessary trade offs is a reality that should alarm anyone who values freedom and justice. I personally can’t fathom how people think they are promoting justice by oppressing people’s right to speech under the threat of punishment, in the name of social justice. When so many things are sure to go wrong, and when so many people could get significantly punished over something they say, we need to rethink whether hate speech laws are ethically justifiable or not. I would hope most reasonable people would come to the same conclusion I do, which is unequivocally no, they are not ethically justifiable in any sense of the term.

    We need to fight against this level of tyranny and oppression. Governments have no business determining what is okay and not okay to say. Then for them to claim the right to punish those who they decide violated their arbitrary laws, when there is no way to truly know the intent behind the things people choose to express, shows horrible judgement. So many people could be unjustly accused of a crime and have their lives ruined because the government decided that they have the power to know whether someone is expressing racist and bigoted views or not. Having the power to enforce negative consequences when they have made their incredibly presumptuous and easily inaccurate judgement is a gross overreach of government power. Let’s avoid all these unnecessary problems by simply protecting freedom of speech and dealing with racism and bigotry through cultural consequences, which have, after all, been shown to have the ability to reduced racism and bigotry enormously already. Freedoms often come with negative side effects. We have clearly seen that freedom is always worth it however, which is why we need to fight for freedom no matter how pure the intentions are of those who seek to limit it are.

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    Jackson Kirk Grimes

    Anti-Hate Laws are designed specifically to outlaw or restrict the activities of organizations, like the most humble and sublime fraternal order, the Ku Klux Klan. They use their Hate Speech laws selectively and apply them only to indigenous Aryans but, never dark migrant intruders.

    Canada could really use something like the Ku Klux Klan. The last time I was there, Toronto was being wrecked by negro savages straight from Africa and the Caribbean Islands.

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    It is worth noting that months following the publication of this interview, Levant broadcasted a commentary that invoked serious hate speech directed at the Roma community (see http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/bernie-m-farber-et-al-hating-the-jew-hating-the-gypsy). Facing widespread condemnation, he later delivered an on-air apology for his comments.

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    I agree, but only partly with the fact that legislation against hate is a symptom of impotence and cowardice. If there is no way for the state to intervene there will be exesses that won’t be acted upon. I do believe that some of these excesses could have an harmfull effect not only to the personality of the hater.

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    I have seldom read such a nonsensical statement from an advocate of free speech! Hatred, especially against persons or groups, corrodes the soul. Hatred does immense harm, but only to the personality of the hater. If an individual cannot withstand hate from another he has no integrity. To ask the State to legislate against hate is a symptom of impotence and cowardice. In Canada hate legislation gives the State the power to intervene in a private dispute between individuals: more, the State actually takes sides in such a dispute. People who run to the State for help in resolving a private dispute should have their democratic rights forfeited.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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