About the Issue
The right to express yourself and form your own opinions is an essential feature of a democracy. Freedom of expression is a core part of the right to dissent and a basic feature of personal development. It is only through exposure to different ideas and opinions that each person can make their own informed choices about their core beliefs. In Canada, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”.
Restrictions on freedom of expression come in many forms including Criminal Code and Human Rights provisions limiting hate speech, municipal by-laws that regulate signage or where protests may take place, civil defamation (libel) actions, and restrictions placed on press freedoms. With more and more communication taking place online, government restrictions on access to the internet and the content and filtering policies of private companies also place limits on free expression. CCLA works to ensure that any limits are reasonable and strictly necessary.
Why This Matters
When government actors are allowed to decide which opinions can be expressed and which cannot, an open, vibrant and diverse society quickly breaks down. Similarly, when our court system is used to silence those with unpopular views or those who oppose powerful actors, we all lose the opportunity to hear all sides of an issue and come to our own conclusions. Freedom of expression is the right to speak, but also the right to hear. Informed political debate requires that this right be strongly protected, and it is only through free expression that individuals can take action to ensure that our governing institutions are held accountable. CCLA has been a steadfast defender of free expression since its creation in 1964 and continues to work to ensure that all individuals enjoy this basic right.
It isn’t always easy to speak up for free expression. It is often those with unpopular or radical views that are silenced or have their freedom of expression threatened. However, CCLA believes that freedom of expression is so core to our democracy that we have even stood up to defend the rights of individuals whose opinions we abhor. We have argued for the repeal of hate speech and obscenity laws which are vague and may chill free expression. We have pushed for modifications to the law of defamation to ensure that we have a strong and free press in Canada, and continue to work to make sure that our civil courts are not used by those with power and wealth to silence the views of those with less resources.. Our work on the right to protest is also closely linked to the value we place on freedom of expression.
CCLA has been involved in most of the major freedom of expression battles of the last fifty years. We have intervened in key court cases on hate speech, pornography, defamation, the open courts principle and press freedoms. We regularly appear before Parliamentary and legislative committees on these issues. We have also worked with individuals and groups who feel their rights have been unreasonably restricted. Freedom of expression is also a key theme in our public education work. We encourage Canadians to think critically about how free expression may be limited and when those limits are reasonable.
CCLA recognizes that strong protections for freedom of expression come with responsibilities. When free speech is used to denigrate individuals and groups, we advocate for counter-speech and denunciation, rather than censorship.
CCLA, in partnership with PEN Canada, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has launched Censorship Tracker, an online crowd-sourced mapping tool to monitor threats to freedom of expression in Canada. The map will allow Canadians to track instances of censorship across Canada, and see how censorship changes over time.
Censorship Tracker relies on submissions from the public in order to capture the full spectrum of actions that limit free expression across Canada. The tool defines “censorship” in general (and not necessarily negative) terms. In particular, it includes as “censorship” any incident in which the right to free expression, guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is limited. To learn more about the tool or to submit a report on censorship, visit https://censorshiptracker.crowdmap.com/
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