Posted by: Jennifer | July 10, 2009

free speech in transit

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled today that having access to freedom of speech for everyone means that sometimes people are going to have to be exposed to ideas that they just don’t agree with.

In an 8-0 ruling this morning, the court said two B.C. mass transit agencies were wrong to refuse political ads the Canadian Federation of Students and a teachers union attempted to purchase in 2004.

The agencies – the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink) and British Columbia Transit (BC Transit) – rejected the ads based on internal policies that focused on making riders feel comfortable with their surroundings.

[…]“It is difficult to see how an advertisement on the side of a bus that constitutes political speech might create a safety risk or an unwelcoming environment for transit users,” Madam Justice Marie Deschamps wrote today for the Court.

I honestly didn’t see the problem with these ads from the start. They did not disparage any individual political group or leader (unlike a few TV ads that have been running lately and are really getting old) and they did not contain any hurtful or degrading messages to any particular race or religion or gender. One was an ad encouraging students to vote in an election, and the other was an ad from the teachers’ union encouraging parents to become involved in learning about changes to the school system. Both ads were informative and yet mundane. This was clearly a case of political correctness gone insane — we don’t want to risk insulting anyone so we just won’t say anything at all. In our effort to keep everyone happy and unoffended, we (and be “we” I mean society as a whole) tend to forget that healthy dialogue can be a good thing, so long as all parties are encouraged and allowed to express their opinions.

Here in Halifax, Metro Transit has been waiting on the outcome of this case before deciding whether to allow a series of pro-atheism bus ads on the sides of their buses. I was pleased to read that the group responsible for the ads will be submitting them to MT on Monday. Again, there is nothing wrong with creating dialogue and awareness among different groups and communities. Sometimes people need to stop thinking up things to be insulted by and spend some time actually listening to and learning from each other.

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