On Allegations of Libel

I believe very strongly in free speech. I believe, without a doubt, that without freedom of speech, we would be in a much worse place.

Freedom of speech is what lets you disagree and voice that disagreement. It’s what lets you have an opinion, it’s what lets you debate. I would argue that all freedoms derive from freedom of speech. Every single one. Freedom of speech is the most important thing in a modern society and is what differentiates us from nations ruled by despots. Nearly every great achievement of mankind can be traced to someone who had the ability to pursue their dreams without fear of reprisal. It’s all about freedom.

I’m not so extreme so as to suggest that freedom of speech should be limitless — indeed, some things are just hate speech and should be categorically denounced. But here’s the thing.

I only have the right to say something if you have the right to say something, and vice versa. If you can’t voice your opinion and only I can voice mine, well, the debate becomes pointless — we achieve nothing. So, freedom of speech gives you the right to not only say horrible things, but gives someone else the right to denounce them. Freedom of speech allows for a classic battle of good against evil: you cannot have one without the other.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in her biography of Voltaire, summed up his beliefs as such:

While I disagree with what you have to say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Hall-as-Voltaire has been my philosophy for most of my life. I completely support everyone’s ability to speak freely. But freedom of speech is a two-way-street. You can have an opinion, and I can disagree with it. That’s democracy, that’s freedom of speech. I don’t believe for a second that my rights end where your feelings begin.

It is with some chagrin then that I announce that we have removed a line from one of our articles.

Douglas_Todd

Douglas Todd, award-winning writer.

Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun — who “delves into topics we’re told to avoid: religion, ethnicity, politics, sex and ethics” — has tacitly threatened legal action against the author of the piece, “One Woman’s Brave Battle to Fight Richmond’s Assault on Whiteness.” Sarah Arboleda, the author, has written on the issue a number of times and I completely support her on this issue.

The issue is as such: Kerry Starchuk, and evidently Douglas Todd, are of the opinion that people in Richmond, British Columbia, should not be allowed to have Chinese-only signs. The two allege that it is disgraceful because Canada is a bilingual country of French and English, and that Chinese is neither of those languages. The debate often spills into an issue of whether or not it is a “good business practice,” as though the government should have any right telling people how to run a business (imagine a group of police officers kicking down the door to a store: “Hey! These shelves are messy and your floor needs to be mopped! As well, your prices are not very competitive and your produce is wilty!”; the Good Business Police issue a ticket and leave how they arrived). Starchuk often makes mention of how long her family has been living in Richmond, as though that gives her more right to live here than anyone else (four generations, in case you were wondering — I’m second-generation, so that’s egg on my face), and Todd has written on the issue a number of times, often pulling Starchuk back in. Thick as thieves, those two.

At the end of the piece, Arboleda alleged that their actions were racist and, furthermore, that they were racists. Strong language to say the least.

The piece was written a full sixteen months ago, and I guess Todd only noticed it now. But even a cursory search reveals that Todd has been called such names before — in fact, in one About article, Todd even debated with the writer who called him a “bigot!” (note: all racists are bigots, but not all bigots are racists)

Todd, however, doesn’t have the time for that. Around the same time he published his most recent article, he sent Arboleda a tacit threat: in his e-mail, he questioned what her intent was with her article, because his response would vary based on her own response. Obviously not very straightforward, but the threat is quite clear — take it down or I sue you.

It was a difficult decision, but we removed the potentially libelous claim of Todd being a racist. It’s gone now, and in its place is a note explaining its removal.

I am very disappointed, however, in Douglas Todd. In response to a very lengthy article that takes him to task, he sent a one paragraph rebuttal. Instead of addressing the issue, instead of facing it, he shut it down. He is, unequivocally, trying to stifle debate. “I’m right, you’re wrong.” A hell of a stance for someone who writes in the “Opinion” section to say the least.

Would Todd have sued? I doubt it. Would his publisher have sued? He e-mailed from his Vancouver Sun e-mail address but I can’t imagine the Sun supports his actions.

It’s horrifically ironic that someone working for a newspaper — you know, an institution that depends on freedom of speech more than just about anywhere else — would threaten legal action over an opinion.

That, my friends, is the state of journalism in Canada.

Below is the Editor’s Note attached to Arboleda’s original, ire-inciting article.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece previously referred to Douglas Todd and Kerry Starchuk as “racists.” Todd, although he did not directly request we remove the reference to him as a racist, tacitly threatened legal action were we to not remove it. While as editor I take a different stance, Arboleda has requested this line be removed.

So The Pletteau is no longer directly alleging that Douglas Todd is a racist, although About does refer to Todd as an “anti-atheist bigot,” so take it with a grain of salt. We have been wrong before.

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