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A comedian relayed this story to his audience. “I lost my watch at a club. I thought I’d never find it, but I decided to try. Sure enough I found it, but there was a dude standing on it. The worst part was, he was being very rude with this woman. When she made herself clear that she didn’t want “it”, he slapped her. That’s when I sprung into action and knocked him out.

Because you don’t hit a woman. Not on my watch.”

If you enjoy puns, you might smile at that story, but it does serve as a fitting illustration for my topic today.

I read a speech written by Frederick Douglass in 1860 that sounds similar to circumstances today that shouldn’t be happening. Not on our watch. Douglass said, “Here we are today contending for what we thought we gained years ago. Last Monday a meeting assembled to discuss – How shall slavery be abolished?” That meeting was invaded and insulted by a mob. The leaders of the mob were men who respect the law. Theirs was the law of slavery. The law of free speech and the law for the protection of public meetings they trampled under foot, while they greatly magnified the law of slavery.”

He continued on to say, “To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.”

Fast forward to April of 2019 when administrators at a college apologized to students who were upset that a conservative speaker had been invited to campus – and promised to do more to stop right- wing speakers from being invited in the future. A survey found that 68 percent of college students say  they believe the climate on campus prevents students from expressing their views because of fears that they might offend other classmates.

Another relevant example is a poll showing 92 percent of Canadians oppose open borders, yet those who express their opposition are labeled as “racist” or users of hate speech. One writer described the situation like this,

“I’m seeing someone declare new words or phrases to be offensive nearly every day. What’s the result? Even the seemingly harmless become not only offensive, but illegal.”

Back in 1860, Frederick Douglass realized how hazardous this can be, saying, “Slavery cannot tolerate free speech. Five years of its exercise would banish the auction block and break every chain in the south. They will have none of it there, for they have the power.”

He also said, “Until the right is accorded to the humblest as freely as to the most exalted citizen, the government is but an empty name, and its freedom a mockery.”

In 1960 former Prime Minister John Deifenbaker introduced the Canadian Bill of Rights. In his speech he said, “I am Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” He also said, “Freedom includes the right to say what others may object to and resent … The essence of citizenship is to be tolerant of strong and provocative words.” Today tolerance for strong words is labeled as hate speech.

A hundred and fifty-nine years ago, people greatly magnified the law of slavery and condemned anyone who opposed it. Today we see government endorsing bills, magnifying legislation, and condemning anyone who expresses opposition.

Much like hamsters, 159 years later we’re still riding on the same wheel; although we’re moving, we’re not moving forward when it pertains to free speech. Yet history has repeatedly illustrated that Canadians can’t afford to give the government, or any other leaders, the power to control speech.

Not on our watch.

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Joan Janzen
Joan Janzen resides in Kindersley where she enjoys spending time with family and friends, volunteering, working as a graphic artist, reading, and of course writing. She likes to compare her column 'Check It Out' to crafting a cake. Sweetness of humor and buttery flavor combine with otherwise hard to swallow zucchini-like information, resulting in a flavorful and fulfilling sensation.