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Rita Spann

Rita Spann: Three Bares Hate Speech

In January of 2007, a Montreal white supremacist named Jean-Sébastien Presseault was sentenced to six months of jail time for “operating a website…where he willfully promoted hatred against black and Jewish people.” This was not a victory.The prosecutor, Thierry Nadon, stated after the sentencing: “This is a sentence that sends a message.” He’s right. The sentence does send a message: That there are not adequate protections for freedom of expression in Quebec.The fact is that popular and politically correct opinions do not need protecting. People will line up to go to film screenings about how to save the world, no one has a problem with love-ins, and it’s pretty hard to find opposition to sites like It’s the unpopular expression that really needs protecting.The official judgment from the case says that Presseault’s “base remarks are despicable, evil, and nauseating.” This is impossible to disagree with. Hate speech is by nature vulgar and disturbing. Presseault should certainly have been made to feel ashamed of his words by others in the online community, but no matter how despicable his remarks, he should not have paid for his expression in jail time.When hateful ideas are expressed, an opportunity is presented to the public to build a constructive dialogue surrounding these ideas. This opportunity is forfeited when governments or other community members intervene to silence alternative expression.The existence of shallow and racist web sites like Presseault’s can help to identify a societal flaw. Questions like “How did he develop these kinds of ideas?” and “How can we improve diversity education in schools to prevent others from developing them?” can, and should, be asked. The presence of hate speech and expression does not necessarily undermine positive societal growth. It can, in fact, encourage it. Hate speech forces communities to reflect upon themselves. They may… Read More