The thing with censorship and freedom of expression …

This was going to be a comment in response to Twylite’s comment on my post about Patricia De Lille’s call for censorship of bloggers but it started to develop into a full post instead.

When the government starts telling us what we can and can’t say, we have censorship. I do agree with one aspect of Twylite’s post (which is worth reading, by the way) and that is the reference to the limitations clause in the Bill of Rights which operates to limit the exercise of a right by a law of general application and on a basis consistent with the underlying principles of the Constitution.

The right to freedom of expression is limited where it constitutes propaganda for war; incitement of imminent violence; or advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm. Short of that and a valid reason to limit that right in terms of the limitations clause, we retain the right to say what we want. The right to freedom of expression is not limited to people who identify themselves and denied to those who remain anonymous (leaving aside the fact that few people on the Web are truly anonymous). In fact I think that there may be circumstances where the only way to truly express oneself may be anonymously.

This call for government to limit the right to freedom of expression because someone has been defamed is a disproportionate use of state power and I don’t really care what “democratic nations have found in their highest courts”. There are certain ideals which are not upheld by democratic governments and it takes a committed group of citizens (and sometimes people who are not citizens) to argue against those practices that run contrary to those ideals. This may just be a matter of a minority party leader calling for restrictions on what can be published on blogs but it when a government starts to impose seemingly minor limitations it starts down a slippery slope and pretty soon we find ourselves with a gaping hole where our freedom of expression used to be but for the whittling down of that right by numerous minor limitations of that right.

Our right to freedom of expression must be vigorously protected and limitations on that right should be restrictively construed because once respect for those fundamental rights are gone, it is pretty difficult to get it back.

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