EDITORIAL: Equivocating with our rights

It’s a shame that, in practice, so many politicians seem to want to put limitations on free speech

Free speech, in theory, is such an easily supportable concept for elected officials, it’s a shame that in practice so many of them seem to want to put limitations on it.

In the United States, since long before Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes ruled in 1919 that “free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater,” the courts have placed it and other concepts of the First Amendment high above other rights. This mandate has resulted in a standard for defamation cases in which the offended party must prove an accusation to be false in order for litigation to be successful.

In Canada, where free speech is treated as secondary to other rights, the accusation must be proven to be true – putting all the onus on the defendant – though we still profess to be staunch advocates of the principle.

But in both countries – as in other free nations – citizens have a right to express political opinions, so long as they do not incite others to violence or otherwise cause endangerment.

Enter the City of White Rock, where, thanks to Coun. Grant Meyer, civic leaders are now entertaining the notion of prohibiting vendors at the White Rock Farmers’ Market from wearing T-shirts with political slogans or endorsements prior to the city’s next civic election in 2018.

The city’s involvement, they say, is because the market is a city-sponsored event (a notion disputed by market manager Helen Fathers who, somewhat coincidentally, is also a city councillor). But regardless of any city support for the market – or lack thereof, as has been all too blatant from Fathers’ council opponents over the years – it should be suggested that civic sponsorship should not be a factor when it comes to such basic human rights.

It is not at all the same as a private business or government body disallowing employees from wearing political T-shirts, which could hurt the employer. In this case, the vendor is the business. If the vendor promotes one candidate or ideology over another, the customer can make the choice whether to do business.

As for Meyer’s insistence he’s not advocating one way or the other, merely bringing up the concerns of an unnamed constituent, he should take a stand. His defensive waffling only draws attention to how few issues he has actually raised publicly over his years on council.

And if politicians are so keen to consider disallowing individuals from expressing their political views, they should prepare to hear a few more speeches in their very near future.

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White Rock Farmers’ Market. (File photo)

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