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Canadians Discuss Freedom of Speech: Individual Rights Versus Group Protection

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Freedom of speech as an individual right is often thought to interfere with the collective rights of vulnerable groups to protection against threats of violence and demeaning group insults. This study analyzes interviews with 78 Canadian civic leaders that probed their views on this possible rights conflict. For most respondents, freedom of speech is not a core value, but one that must be reconciled with equality, nondiscrimination, and multiculturalism. Most of these Canadians will tolerate some restrictions on freedom of speech, believing such restrictions will promote community harmony and respect for all groups in society. These Canadians hold to a communitarian view of rights, and trust their government to curb free speech rights to protect vulnerable groups. However, ’new’ free speech issues, involving conflicts among members of different vulnerable groups, may point to the need to reinforce individual freedom of speech.

Affiliations: 1: Professor of Sociology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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