LanguageLog and Alberta’s Hate Speech Laws

Hate speech laws have always come in for criticism, balancing as they do on the slack wire between freedom of speech and violence to others. The brouhaha involving Mark Steyn, MacLeans and some law students is only the latest wobble on the wire, and one that I won’t go into here. But I thought Slaw readers might be interested in a provision in the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act that the venerable (and very pro speech, shall we say) LanguageLog poked fun at today. The provision is found in section 3(1) and the part that attracted their attention is italicized:

3(1) No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that

    (a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a class of persons, or

    (b) is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt

because of the race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income or family status of that person or class of persons.

The post, titled “What is the polite word for “pimp”?,” drew a number of interesting comments, none, I might add, supporting this aspect of the law.

Various provinces forbid discrimination in the provision of services on the basis of source of income but do not, so far as my brief research goes, purport to limit speech in the same way.

[By the way, LanguageLog recently did the bad, and moved its entire operations to another server and RSS URL because of server problems without notifying subscribers. This is the new feed URL.]


  1. I couldn’t quite bring myself to defend the Act, given my distaste for these codes, but I at least gave it two cheers in my post. (I’m a regular Language Log reader)