Re: “Right Minded: An offensive motion” by Brendan Steven (09.02.10)
Columnist Brendan Steven makes an argument that the upcoming (as of this letter) General Assembly motion on discriminatory groups constitutes a vote on freedom of speech. However, his analysis is significantly misguided. Historically, as well as in the Canadian context, constitutional freedom of expression ensures protection from government censorship. It does not, however, necessarily apply to private situations. Telling a friend to shut up, for example, is not a violation of their freedom of speech. In another classic example we see that individuals are not free to yell “fire” in a crowded room, lest they desire being arrested for inciting a riot.
Obviously this distinction becomes cloudy when dealing with private-public enterprises, such as Canadian universities. However, it is the Students’ Society, and not the university itself who would be called upon to censor, should the motion pass, certain groups and their ability to express themselves through the machinery and institutions of SSMU. Because of this, this motion does not constitute a violation of freedom of speech, but rather a decision internal to a private organization (SSMU) in regards to whether it will allow its money to be used by groups who express themselves in a way displeasing to some.
Now, Mr. Steven may be right in calling this a silly and disheartening objective. Personally, I think the motion is wrong, and am planning on voting against it. This is because I believe there is normative value in allowing groups with relatively extremist views to express themselves as they see fit within the framework of our Students’ Society. However, this has nothing to do with constitutional rights to freedom of expression, and Mr. Steven is wrong in considering it so.