The recent throttling of Rebel Media’s website, and the arrest of reporter David Menzies for asking Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland questions, has ignited a familiar debate: where do we draw the line between free speech and harmful rhetoric? While the specifics of the case are murky, the episode shines a spotlight on a critical issue – the potential for selective outrage when it comes to freedom of expression.
Let’s be clear: the core principle of free speech deserves a staunch defense. It allows for the messy, vibrant exchange of ideas, even those we find offensive or distasteful. However, this right isn’t absolute. Inciting violence, spreading hate speech, and promoting discrimination fall outside the boundaries of protected expression.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre lamented the troubling state of the free press in Canada after news circulated that a Rebel Media journalist was arrested while trying to question Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.https://t.co/R5DHWdFC3r— True North (@TrueNorthCentre) January 10, 2024
Rebel Media’s content frequently walks a tightrope, with its founder’s pronouncements against Muslims and refugees often veering into the realm of harmful generalization and prejudice. But is silencing their website the answer? While their views may be objectionable, their right to express them, however distasteful, should be upheld.
However, selective outrage becomes problematic when this principle isn’t applied consistently. For instance, consider the recent events surrounding Khalistani separatist groups in Canada. While freedom of expression protects peaceful dissent, it doesn’t extend to acts of violence, intimidation, and hate speech.
Here are some recent examples that highlight the violence and extremism by the Khalistani elements – both on the ground and the digital & social media, and the Canadian government’s silence in letting them slide:
- 2020 – Brampton Khalistani rally: A rally promoting Khalistan, a Sikh separatist state, saw participants raise Khalistani flags and chant inflammatory slogans. While peaceful assembly is protected, glorifying a state linked to violence raises concerns about potential harm.
- 2022 – Mississauga “anti-India” protest: Protests against Indian government actions turned violent, with demonstrators damaging property and assaulting others. Freedom of expression doesn’t justify violence or incitement.
- 2023 – Violent Threats Against Indian Diplomats and Consulates: The year 2023 saw fringe Khalistani extremists lead violent protests in front of the Indian High Commissions in Canada. What’s more, there were billboard openly displayed with violent threats to the Indian diplomats in Canada.
- 2023 – Vandalism of Hindu temples: Several Hindu temples across Canada were vandalized with Khalistani slogans and symbols. Hate speech and property damage are clear violations, not expressions of legitimate dissent.
- 2023 – Former Indian PM Indira Gandhi’s Assassination Tableau being publicly showcased and ‘celebrated’.
These instances raise a crucial question: why is the outrage over Rebel Media’s website seemingly louder than the condemnation of such blatant hate speech and violence from certain Khalistani groups? Is it a matter of perceived threat? Or is it an unconscious bias based on identity for vote-bank politics by the current Trudeau administration?
The answer is likely the latter. However, the consequences of this selective outrage are dangerous. It undermines the very principle of free speech by creating a framework where some voices are deemed more acceptable to silence than others. This sets a perilous precedent, one that could easily be weaponized against any group deemed “unpalatable” by the dominant narrative.
Instead of selective outrage, Canada needs a nuanced approach to freedom of expression. It is necessary to defend the right to dissent, even when it’s ugly or hateful. But Canada must also condemn violence, hate speech, and incitement, regardless of its source. Only then can it truly uphold the principles of a free and just society.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.