Being occasionally offended the price we pay to live in a free society

Originally published in the Guelph Mercury:

Every few years, city bus banner ads in Guelph trigger debate about free speech rights.

A few years ago, it was an atheist ad that read: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” This year, it’s a couple of ads from Alliance for Life Ontario. One ad depicts a fetus at 19 weeks of development and states, “This is a child, not a choice.” The second includes images of fetuses with the message, “I’m a human being with potential, not a potential human being.”

Coun. Ian Findlay shared on his blog that he had received complaints about the ads and posted one such anonymous complaint. The complainant argues that the ads are “highly inappropriate for public property”, that as a woman she finds the ad offensive and that since abortions at 19 weeks are rare, the first ad is misleading.

And to the complainant, I say “So what?”

We live in a pluralistic, multicultural society where no two citizens hold identical views, or are required to do so. We live in a constitutionally described “free and democratic society” that is characterized by freedoms of expression, conscience, association and religion, among others, guaranteed constitutionally in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If, as a society, we fail to value the conversation that arises from an open marketplace of shared ideas, and if we were to appoint someone, such as the complainant, to judge which expressions should be banned according to her subjective standards of “offensiveness” or “misleadingness,” there would be very little free speech indeed.

Read the rest at the Guelph Mercury website.