Monday, November 8, 2010

Freedom of speech isn’t freedom to hide

Lateral violence in the blogging age

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of free speech.  I’m equally dedicated to recognizing and embracing the freedoms in our society that both enable and permit freedom of expression across the diverse groups that comprise Canadian society.

Earlier this in year, in fact, I had the privilege of adding my voice to the debate in the Senate of Canada around the future of freedom of speech in Canada.  For First Nations people in the country, I believe this is incredibly important.

The concept of freedom of speech is fundamental to democratic government. It’s said that “the test of democracy is freedom of criticism”.  It’s so true that healthy, provocative, and even intense debate is at the very root of our democracy.  Yet, so many in our country – and what’s far worse, in our own Aboriginal community – seem take these freedoms almost entirely for granted (more on this later).

Freedom of speech is not, as some suggest, an American concept.  It’s an extension of free will.  It’s a by-product of democracy.  What’s more, it is an idea that‘s reflective of the notion that all men and women were created equal.  Freedom of speech knows no political station, no power structure nor race, colour or creed.  

Given this, how sad it is that we seem as a society to consider freedom of speech as less important than ensuring none might become offended by the hard truths of 21st century living. After all, there’s a fine line between freedom of speech and respect. 

As an Aboriginal person, I am all too well aware of how freedom of speech is used as a tool to promote prejudice, division, mistruths and even hatred.

There are those who believe and generally practice that freedom of expression and free speech work in only one direction – those who insist on being able to express their views and opinions while denying others the opportunity to challenge those views or correct the record created when mistruths are spoken as fact. 

One needs look no further than the myriad blogs on the internet that spew forth opinion, innuendo and allegation as fact.  In many instances, the writer more often than not will not have the conviction to claim ownership of the practice. 

The line between speaking freely and being spoken to freely without responsibility should not exist – but sadly, it most assuredly does. 

As Canada’s first peoples, we need to be able to freely define our aspirations, to debate the real root causes of poverty in our communities and most importantly to compellingly prescribe the cure for the ills that confront us – in a constructive, productive manner. 

This can’t happen in a vacuum where people live in fear of retribution and retaliation if they have the courage to speak out.  This will not happen if divergent opinion is termed racist – and it surely will not happen without the full engagement and participation of grassroots Aboriginal peoples, convicted and convinced enough of the need to embrace the need for change.

We mustn’t take on this complex matter lightly.  There are still numerous ‘fine lines’ that are to be found intertwined in this subject. 

There is the line between freedom of speech and freedom of expression which must not be crossed --, and that is in the instance where freedom of expression can readily lead to lateral violence. 

Lateral violence happens when people who are both victims of a situation of dominance, in fact, turn on each other rather than confront the system that oppresses them both. Lateral violence occurs when individual members of oppressed groups internalize feelings such as anger and rage, and manifest their feelings through behaviours such as gossip, jealousy, putdowns and blaming.

I can understand lateral violence and its causes.  I can empathize with those who adopt it as a preferred method   But I can’t even begin to understand why a few certain members of a community so rife with challenges to overcome would wish to adopt the practice and carry it out anonymously as a default position.

Lateral violence achieves nothing of worth.  Lateral violence constructs nothing. It only obstructs and destroys any sense of the achievement of progress and the creation of hope.  To those who practice it, I challenge to you to show me something of worth to grassroots people that was, is or will be created through lateral violence.

In the face of the practice such lateral violence, it’s important to emphasise the line between freedom of speech and the freedom to knowingly misrepresent the truth.  There are clear lines between our rights to free speech and our rights to protect ourselves from purposeful misrepresentation of fact, slander and libel. 

Freedom of speech is often a right that we might sometimes take for granted.  I mentioned I would add more on this earlier in this posting, and here it is:  I welcome your comments if you’ve the conviction to stand by them.  I don’t accept anonymous posts on this blog.

In First Nations communities, the affirmation of the right to freedom of speech is something that needs to be taught, exercised and most importantly, rigorously defended in light of anything that attempts to trump it, short of hate-crime.

It’s essential to understand that for Canada’s First Nations peoples, in our hearts and souls this is indeed our home and native land – and one in which the ability to prosper and to speak should be equally as strong and as free as our nation is.


Anonymous said...

I am pleased that Freedom of Speech is being mentioned with Freedom of Expression especially when you point out that being politically correct is actually keeping us down (my words and take on your great blog today).

I like that you remind everyone that whenever anyone cites Freedom of Speech then proceeds to be disrespectful, it doesn't work. We are still people and regardless of what you say, how you say it or when and where you say it, if it shows disrespect we still feel it and sometimes the reactions are well, reactionary.

I wrote in my blog about Freedom of Speech but on a different subject. I was writing about video game violence and the citing of the Freedom of Speech to prevent a ban in California.

In some respects that is another world when compared to the First Peoples of Canada. In other respects it is just another venue for the "Weilders of Our Rights" to 'get things done' by preventing progression.

I am not a Government Official nor am I employed by the Federal Government so I have no problem voicing my opinion on the following statement. (Feel free to edit this section out if you feel it necessary but wouldn't you be doing the very thing we are both speaking out against?)
The statement:

The Government of Canada has a vested interest in keeping INAC just the way it is, a patriarchial department that acts on behalf of what is in essence a Political Child.

I have expressed my opinion and I hope I have done so with respect knowing who you are Mr. Brazeau.

Your blog was very well written unlike my unedited comment I sent you on your first post. =) I am really happy that you are blogging actually as I prefer this over Facebook.

I do appreciate that you have embraced the technology and in my opinion, you are representative of the Future of our Country. You have a vocal supporter here and I hope you take my words for what they are, support. I should state that my heritage and culture lies with the Nisga'a People of the Nass Valley. I belong to the House of Ax Dii Will Luu Gooda (don't worry about the pronounciation as it does not translate well over the internet). I belong to the Ganada (Frog) Clan. I'm proud to say that the Nisga'a have been able to get both the Federal and Provincial Governments to sit down at one table at the same time. =) The result? The first modern day treaty. We have a Voice.

I have seen First People's Cultures being embraced by corporations. It is my hope that one day the Government of Canada will appreciate what it is they have rather than continue to allow the notion that First Peoples need to cared for as Wards of the Government.

As a Nisga'a I can tell you that having a Voice really does surprise a lot of people and really when you consider the essence of the Freedom of Speech, how can Canada continue to keep INAC as it is?

Unity by Aloha said...

I believe Canadians have been programed by the education system to lose their innate learning skills (see comment under State of Aboriginal Education..). Residential schools are a good example of how education can oppress natural human values. How can we function in a democratic system if we are raised in the authoritarian environment of the schools?

Due to this "education" process we have lost our ability see truth. Examples: How many Canadians are aware their taxes are perpetuating war? In addition, it speaks to your statement, most Canadians "seem [to] take these freedoms almost entirely for granted."

"Astardly" is one of the few that has not allowed the system to bury reality and has voiced her/his opinion with some degree of expectation the opinion will be heard.

Post a Comment