Free speech a 'rallying call for the far-right,' says Canadian 'expert'

"If we look at the narrative over the past few years, there has been an emphasis on cancel culture. Free speech has become a rallying call for the far-right," she said. (Photo: Beth Baisch)

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal QC

An "expert on hate crime and right-wing extremism" said that free speech is a "rallying call for the far-right" that has been "amplified by the emergence of the alt-right" in Canada.

The comment came after the findings of a survey that polled Canadians on their beliefs around free speech. The survey, which was conducted nationally via phone calls by the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan, found that there was a strong corelation between a person's political leanings and their views on the state of free speech. Those who lean right had a higher likelihood of believing there should be no limits on speech, (which would make it "free") including the right to express opinions considered offensive.

Research director Jason Disano said that the survey was conducted to get a sense of where people stood on the matter "given the prominent role that the phrase 'freedom' has been playing in the current Conservative Party of Canada leadership campaign," he told The Canadian Press.

Eight in 10 respondents said that they have or somewhat have freedom of speech in Canada. Most respondents also said that large tech companies should play a role in limiting the spread of mis- and disinformation, as well as hate speech.

"But when you break that down into one's political leanings, that's when you really see differences in Canadian views and opinions in the extent to which that freedom of speech should be (limited)," said Disano.

Nearly a quarter of respondents on the right said that Canadians have limited or no free speech, compared to three percent of left-leaning respondents who answered the same way.

Barbara Perry, the director of the Centre of Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University and an "expert on hate crime and right-wing extremism" according to the Human Rights Congress, said that free speech has become a rallying call for the far right, including the alt-right "in particular."

"If we look at the narrative over the past few years, there has been an emphasis on cancel culture. Free speech has become a rallying call for the far-right. It's always been there, but I think it was really amplified by the emergence of the alt-right in particular," she said.

Respondents were asked whether they agreed with the Canadian or American approach to free speech, wherein eight in 10 respondents said they agreed with Canada's approach of limited speech. One in three right-leaning respondents said they supported the US's approach. 22.4 percent of those respondents were from Prairie provinces, with the least coming from Atlantic Canada at 4.5 percent.

Perry's expert analysis said that US-style free speech "absolutism" has emerged in Canada thanks in part to social media.

"We're not just talking about speech that's offensive or hurts someone's feelings, we're really talking about dangerous speech and speech that has the potential to do real harm," Perry said.

"It comes back to the internet and having what they think is ease of access to spread whatever hateful, and misguided ideas they want."

Perry has also previously claimed that "freedom" is a "malleable term" that is "open to interpretation"

"It is a term that has resonated… You can define it and understand it and sort of manipulate it in a way that makes sense to you and is useful to you, depending on your perspective," she told the CBC in February, during the Freecom Convoy in Ottawa.

The survey had 1,000 participants, and is reliable to within plus or minus three percent with a 95 percent confidence level.


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