Rory Leishman:

Direct attacks on the God-given, natural right of everyone to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression are continuing to mount, not just in Canada, but also in Europe. One of the most prominent, recent victims is J.K. Rowling, a resident of Edinburgh Scotland and author of the Harry Potter series of novels. Siobhian Brown, Scotland’s Minister for Victims and Community Safety, warned in an interview with the BBC on April 1 that under Scotland’s new Hate Crime and Public Order Act, Police Scotland could open an investigation into Rowling for persistently misgendering trans people.

In Scotland, as elsewhere, misgendering is a brand-new crime that consists in referring to a transgender woman as a man. In this respect, Rowling is a serial offender. She insists that a biological male is and always will remain a biological male even if he identifies as a transgender female.

In Brown’s interview with the BBC, she began by insisting that misgendering is not a crime under Scotland’s new hate-crime law. The interviewer, Justin Webb, was skeptical. He recalled that one of Brown’s colleagues in the Scottish National Party had recently said of Rowling: “She’s not entitled to make people feel uncomfortable and to misgender someone.”

Webb then pressed Brown: “So just to be absolutely clear, if someone misgenders, in other words calls a trans woman a man, online, you’re saying that is not a crime in your view under this act?”

Brown responded: “Justin, it would be a police matter for them to assess what happened.” Upon further questioning by Webb, she added: “Whether or not the police would think it was criminal is up to Police Scotland.”

Rowling is not at all intimidated. She avows: “If what I’ve written qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested.”

Is Rowling a transphobe? Does she hate transsexuals? Definitely not. She affirms in a memoir on her website: “Trans people need and deserve protection … I want trans women to be safe.” Nonetheless, as a survivor of sexual assault and battering, Rowling is also eager to keep natal women and girls safe by preventing male predators masquerading as transsexuals from gaining access to female bathrooms and changing rooms.

What must be done to safeguard Rowling’s right to freedom of speech? Nothing less than doing away with Scotland’s hate-speech law will suffice.

And the same goes for protecting the right of Canadians to freedom of speech. That right will remain in jeopardy so long as the Criminal Code provides that anyone who says anything to promote hatred against any group is guilty of an offence punishable by up to two years imprisonment.

What about Islamist terrorists and the former FLQ bombers: Should even such violent extremists be allowed to spew their manifest hatred in public? Yes, indeed. Rather than compelling terrorists to skulk in silence, it is far better to allow even them to speak out in public if only so they can be more readily identified and tracked by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Canada got through two world wars and the Cold War without any hate-crime laws. There is no need for such legislation now.

However, to protect vulnerable minorities and preserve the peace, it is essential that police, prosecutors, and the courts rigorously uphold long-standing statute laws and common-law rules governing the time, manner, and place of public protests. Specifically, in Canada, as in Britain and the United States, it is a criminal offence to incite violence; to impede traffic on a bridge or public street; to disturb entire neighbourhoods by blaring horns or blasting loudspeakers for hours on end; or to prevent any law-abiding citizen from entering any synagogue, mosque, park, library, university building or any other place that is normally open to the public.

No group of protesters no matter how righteous their cause has any right to break these laws. Yet all too often, law-enforcement authorities simply stand by and wring their hands while an out-of-control mob of protesters descends into law-breaking. Such appeasement never works. Responsible public authorities should ensure that whenever any group of protesters starts breaking the law, the police are firmly instructed to give the mob fair warning to disperse and then follow up by promptly arresting and incarcerating any remaining malefactors so long as necessary to restore public peace.

Finally, in the campaign to curtail hate speech, all decent, law-abiding citizens have a vital role to play: Whenever we see anyone vilifying Jews or any other vulnerable group, we must vigorously denounce such bigotry and make clear that there is no place for hate-mongers in Canadian society.