Contrary to common knowledge, China has freedom of speech. The government allows Chinese people and the press to say or write whatever they want â€¦ as long as they don't go against the government's official line.
In Canada, you can write or say whatever you want â€¦ as long as nobody's feelings get hurt.
Sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code state that any visual representation or writing that can be interpreted as offensive to any "identifiable group" is a crime and will result in a criminal sentence.
Theoretically, you could serve up to five years in jail for political incorrectness.
These sections illustrate that freedom of speech in Canada is not considered important, or a fundamental right, in contrast to Americans, who are proud of their First Amendment that guarantees them the freedom to say moronic things. When we get into grey areas related to freedom of speech by limiting what people can say, freedom of expression disappears.
Proponents of hate laws argue you should not allow people to express hurtful or hateful comments that can disseminate hatred and that do not contribute to a civil society. These well-intentioned people are missing the point.
Firstly, the government cannot legislate against feelings. Any attempt to suppress negative feelings is futile. When the government
attempts to limit the expression of feelings or thoughts, these feelings do not simply dissipate.
We enter a dangerous region where feelings are repressed and can then be negatively expressed in hazardous ways: a well-known doctor has conducted extensive research where he has found that individuals who do not express their feelings are much more likely to get cancer - a metaphor of what happens when freedom of speech is limited: the cancer grows silently and aggressively.
By allowing people to express themselves, we can identify their intentions. Therefore, we can counter propaganda considered to be hateful using that great tool called freedom of speech. Europe provides a perfect example.
After the Second World War, most European countries introduced hate speech laws. But in spite of this, the Anti-Defamation League's surveys find higher levels of hate crimes in surveyed European countries than in the United States (which doesn't have hate speech laws).
Also, the Canadian code defines hate speech towards an "identifiable" group. So, can't we openly criticize those blood-sucking politicians? They are an identifiable group. Annoying smokers, dishonest car salesmen and even wreckless drivers can be identified.
Does that mean I can't say negative things about them? What if it's important?
Who is to decide what contributes and what does not to our society? Can controlling people's words not be used to limit the expression of opinions that should be said? A Harvard author has just written a book in which he has acknowledged that dissenting voices are crucial to democracy, for these voices can see issues from new angles and can provide new perspectives and points of view.
As these individuals are often on the margins of what society deems correct, their voices may be silenced to the detriment of us all.
As Canadians are not allowed to express that which can be considered "hateful," I wouldn't consider Canada to be a country that has freedom of speech. As freedom of speech is either something you have or you don't, there is no room for caveats or grey areas. Further, hate speech laws are an embarrassment and insult to Canadians' intelligence.
They assume Canadians aren't smart or bright enough to be able to take the good and discard the bad. After all, without of freedom of speech, how can we identify the idiots among us?
Salomon Rayek is a Kelowna resident and former executive editor of the Jewish Tribune. Email: