By John Westwood
In an article entitled “Hate crimes won’t be tolerated in B.C., attorney general says” (Sun, 22 November 1996), Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh is quoted as vowing “[T]he government will not tolerate hatred of any kind in British Columbia.” The article goes on to report local concern about U.S. militia-style training in the Creston area.
Now it’s one thing for Mr. Dosanjh to promise to deal with hate crimes—that is, criminal actions (for example, assaults) that are motivated by hate. It’s a different kettle of fish for the A.G. to vow to use the machinery of the state to abolish hatred. I would be very interested to hear from the A.G. how he plans to do that! Aside from the impossibility of such a task, I had always thought that in a democracy it’s not the business of the state to use its legal machinery to control the minds of its citizens, even if this were possible.
Of course, the underlying issue here is controlling hate speech—that is, making the expression of hatred illegal in an attempt to control the spread of hatred itself. Historically and practically this is a very bad idea. It doesn’t work; and it almost always gives hate mongerers a vastly expanded forum for their ideas. More importantly, it is wrong. No citizenry that takes seriously its sovereign role can tolerate the state telling us what ideas we can express.
Instead of posturing and threatening legal sanctions, the A.G. would have been better advised to have used the occasion to affirm our society’s commitment to tolerance, and to condemn the content of any hate speech circulating in the Creston area.