Mary M Gusella
Chief Commissioner

Quotations Which Should be
Required Reading
For Every Employee of the
Canadian Human Rights Commission

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.  It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.  Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Robert F. Kennedy in "Edward M. Kennedy Tribute to Senator Robert F. Kennedy," American Rhetoric at www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ekennedytributetorfk.html

If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
John Stuart Mill (18061873), On Liberty, 1859, from Chapter II, Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.

The most intolerant of churches, the Roman Catholic Church, even at the canonisation of a saint, admits, and listens patiently to, a "devil's advocate."  The holiest of men, it appears, cannot be admitted to posthumous honours, until all that the devil could say against him is known and weighed.  If even the Newtonian philosophy were not permitted to be questioned, mankind could not feel as complete assurance of its truth as they now do.  The beliefs which we have most warrant for have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded.  If the challenge is not accepted, or is accepted and the attempt fails, we are far enough from certain still; but we have done the best that the existing state of human reason admits of; we have neglected nothing that could give the truth a chance of reaching us: if the lists are kept open, we may hope that if there is a better truth, it will be found when the human mind is capable of receiving it; and in the meantime we may rely on having attained such approach to truth as is possible in our own day.  This is the amount of certainty that is attainable by a fallible being, and this the sole way of attaining it.
John Stuart Mill (18061873), On Liberty, 1859, from Chapter II, Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.

No one's opinions deserve the name of knowledge, except so far as he has either had forced upon him by others, or gone through of himself, the same mental process which would have been required of him in carrying on an active controversy with opponents.  That, therefore, which when absent, it is so indispensable, but so difficult, to create, how worse than absurd it is to forego, when spontaneously offering itself!  If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will let them, let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much greater labour for ourselves.
John Stuart Mill (18061873), On Liberty, 1859, from Chapter II, Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.

Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take some notice of those who say that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion.  Much might be said on the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the test be offence to those whose opinions are attacked, I think experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, an intemperate opponent.
John Stuart Mill (18061873), On Liberty, 1859, from Chapter II, Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion.

Schauer points out that throughout history, attempts to restrict expression have accounted for a disproportionate share of government blunders from the condemnation of Galileo for suggesting the earth is round to the suppression as "obscene" of many great works of art.  Professor Schauer explains this peculiar inability of censoring governments to avoid mistakes by the fact that, in limiting expression, governments often act as judge in their own cause.  They have an interest in stilling criticism of themselves, or even in enhancing their own popularity by silencing unpopular expression.  These motives may render them unable to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of suppression in many instances.  That is not to say that it is always illegitimate for governments to curtail expression, but government attempts to do so must prima facie be viewed with suspicion.
McLachlin J. in Regina v Keegstra, [1990] 3 Supreme Court Reporter 697 at 805, alluding to the writing of F. Schauer, Free Speech: A Philosophical Enquiry, 1982.

To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion.  If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence....

Moreover, even imminent danger cannot justify resort to prohibition of these functions essential to effective democracy, unless the evil apprehended is relatively serious....  There must be the probability of serious injury of the State.
Brandeis J. (Holmes J. concurring) in Whitney v California, 274 US 357 (1927), at 377-378, as quoted by McLachlin J. in Regina v Keegstra, [1990] 3 Supreme Court Reporter 697 at 813-814. 

The question, then, is whether imprudent speech is protected by the Charter.  On invocation of the "marketplace of ideas" justification for protected expression, one of the purposes reviewed in Grier, it is not just correct and careful comment that is protected.  Mill said this of imprudent expression (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956), p. 65):

... all this, even to the most aggravated degree, is so continually done in perfect good faith, by persons who are not considered, and in many other respects may not deserve to be considered, ignorant or incompetent, that it is rarely possible, on adequate grounds, conscientiously to stamp the misrepresentation as morally culpable; and still less could law presume to interfere with this kind of controversial misconduct.
It is possible, of course, to exchange ideas prudently.  Nevertheless, if too many obstacles are placed in the way of the exchange of ideas, obstacles that too little heed human weakness, prudent people will never say a word.
Kerans, J.A. delivering the judgment of the Alberta Court of Appeal in Regina v Keegstra, 39 CRR 21, 06-Jun-1988.

Group Libel

If the purpose of the First Amendment is to insure a free flow of ideas, of what value to that process are utterances which defame people because of their race or religion?  Can't we prohibit group libel that merely stirs up hatred between peoples?

Legal philosopher Edmond Cahn dealt with this subject in a notable address delivered at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1962.  If there were a prohibition against group defamation, said Cahn:

The officials could begin by prosecuting anyone who distributed the Christian Gospels, because they contain many defamatory statements not only about Jews but also about Christians; they show Christians failing Jesus in his hour of deepest tragedy.  Then the officials could ban Greek literature for calling the rest of the world 'barbarians.'  Roman authors would be suppressed because when they were not defaming the Gallic and Teutonic tribes they were disparaging the Italians.  For obvious reasons, all Christian writers of the Middle Ages and quite a few modern ones could meet a similar fate.  Even if an exceptional Catholic should fail to mention the Jews, the officials would have to proceed against his works for what he said about the Protestants and, of course, the same would apply to Protestant views on the subject of Catholics.  Then there is Shakespeare who openly affronted the French, the Welsh, the Danes.  ...  Dozens of British writers from Sheridan and Dickens to Shaw and Joyce insulted the Irish.  Finally, almost every worthwhile item of prose and poetry published by an American Negro would fall under the ban because it either whispered, spoke, or shouted unkind statements about the group called 'white.'  Literally applied, a group-libel law would leave our bookshelves empty and us without desire to fill them.
History teaches us that group libel laws are used to oppress racial and religious minorities, not to protect them.  For example, none of the anti-Semites who were responsible for arousing France against Captain Alfred Dreyfus was ever prosecuted for group libel.  But Emile Zola was prosecuted for libelling the military establishment and the clergy of France in his magnificent J'Accuse and had to flee to England to escape punishment....
American Civil Liberties Union, Speech Should Not Be Limited, in Ann K. Symons and Sally Gardner Reed, Speaking Out! Voices in Celebration of Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association, Chicago and London, 1999, pp. 22-27, pp. 25-26.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or by act their faith therein.  If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.
Justice Robert H. Jackson

American libraries should be open to all except the censor.  Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors.  For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.
John F. Kennedy

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values.  For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people.
John F. Kennedy

A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both.  Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.
James Madison

Believe me, the pro-filtering forces don't want to filter just sexually explicit web sites.  Filtering sexually explicit sites is just their entrée into choosing what's inappropriate for the library to provide access to.  First they'll want us to filter out sexual pictures, then erotic stories, then information about birth control, then web sites promoting witches and Satanism, then pro-Communist web sites, and then they'll have been successful in turning the clock back to Eisenhower's day.  I just hope we can be as strong as the General in defending our users' right to choose for themselves what they will and will not access.
Charles Harmon, Editor, Neal-Schuman Publishers

It sometimes seems that the appetite of the censor is insatiable.  It is one of the most elite forms of human activity since it presumes that some of us are so wise, so moral, and so pure that we have the right to determine what others read, see, and believe.  If history teaches us anything, it is that no one, or no group of people, has a monopoly on what is truth, what is liberty, and what is morally certain.
Burton Joseph, Attorney at Law, Chicago

If librarianship is the connecting of people to ideas and I believe that is the truest definition of what we do it is crucial to remember that we must keep and make available not just good ideas and noble ideas, but bad ideas and silly ideas and, yes, even dangerous and wicked ideas.

We need to keep dangerous and wicked ideas alive: Humankind must never forget that sometimes we have slaughtered our neighbors, lied to our children, studied hatred and turned it into legend.  We must remember these things.

But we also need to remember that some ideas thought worthless today may turn out to be the bedrock of tomorrow's truths.  We need to keep the whole of human history ever before us, recalling that the right of women to vote was once considered an idea both silly and dangerous; that the idea of one human being owning another was once as much a part of daily life as getting up with the sun in the morning; and that freedom to worship the Creator in one's own way was such a radical idea that people who believed in it had to found an entire new country to practice it our country.
GraceAnne A. DeCandido, Blue Roses Editorial and Web Consulting

I have been there when librarians defended material that I am quite certain they personally found repugnant.  In their resolute way, these librarians always seemed to me the truest champions of democracy.  We must recognize that there is an enormous difference between what people think and say and what they do.  As Americans, we are entitled to think and express what we wish.  As librarians, we must uphold the belief that the best antidote to a bad idea is another idea, to a hateful book, another book.

Censorship knows no better champions than people who believe they alone have the right answer.  The natural next step for many, it seems, is to try to silence those who disagree.  This pressure can come from anywhere in the political spectrum.  What zealots often fail to comprehend is that libraries exist to preserve the record of what has happened in the world.  Denial of the horrors of American slavery, of the Holocaust, of atrocities in the Balkans, of the lies of communism depends on the obliteration of the record.  Those who would know the truth must be able to see for themselves in libraries and archives the hatred and lies that have been held up as truth, and we must trust that a free and educated people will see these phenomena for what they are.

I want to know that somewhere, in some library, I will always be able to find examples of the worst racist, homophobic, and sexist material.  In time, these materials become their own worst enemies; they stand as indisputable evidence of what the objects of their hatred endured.

But "defend to the death"?  Isn't that just too extreme?  I'm not suggesting that librarians should be prepared to die so that neo-Nazis can spread hate speech, but I do believe that once examples of their hatred have been cataloged and preserved in the appropriate collections, no one is entitled to remove them.  A world that suppresses unpopular views, no matter how repellent, is a world American librarians cannot inhabit.
Leonard Kniffel, Editor, American Libraries

Today, as always, there are some people and groups who are all for freedom of information except information they find offensive.  That attitude has forever been the ink drop in the waterglass of freedom, whether the contaminating cloud is sponsored by a self-serving dictator or a sincere religionist in a democracy.  Those who wrote our First Amendment knew that the heresy of yesterday is often the proven authenticity of today.  But every generation has had to fight to maintain that reality for its own freedom.
Ben H. Bagdikian, Author

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.
Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent.  Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers.  The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Whoever controls the press proclaims that it is free.  Those to whom this freedom is denied have no means to deny it.  In Russia for many years the editors proclaimed the press to be free.  Only through the underground press, samiszdat, did we know it was not free at all.  This is bound to be the way as long as the press is run for only some of the people in the society it nominally serves.  True freedom of the press is not owned.  It is not divisible.  It is not deniable.  It belongs to all of us.
James Bacque, Other losses: An investigation into the mass deaths of German prisoners at the hands of the French and Americans after World War II, General Paperbacks, Toronto, 1991, p. 175.

'In my thirty years as a scholar of American history,' said one American professor, 'I have never known the archives to appear to be so much of a political agency of the executive branch as it is now.  One used to think of the Archivist of the United States as a professional scholar.  Now he has become someone who fills a political bill.'  Many people who have cast doubt on German crimes have been fired from their jobs, vilified, deported, jailed or censored, while anyone who denies our post-war crimes against the Germans is published and praised by the press, academe, army and government.
James Bacque, Crimes and Mercies: The fate of German civilians under Allied occupation 1944-1950, Little, Brown and Company (Canada) Limited, Boston, New York, Toronto, London, 1997, p. 193