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April 6, 2004


Alanis and Hypocritical Censorship


By now, you have probably seen the photo of Alanis Morrisette wearing a bodysuit with removable nipples at the Canadian music awards the other night. The outfit was part of a bit where she lambasted America for "hypocritical...censorship," told a story about having to remove the word "asshole" from the song "Everything," and said she was "overjoyed to be back in my homeland, the true North... strong and censor-free." [source]

Well, not quite. In fact, it's interesting that Alanis didn't take the opportunity to criticize her own country for some recent official actions that have come a lot closer to censorship than what's been going on here lately. A few months ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (which in part serves as Canada's federal investigative bureau) began sifting through a reporter's garbage and eventually 20 officers raided her home, looking for information and sources for a story the reporter wrote about a suspected terrorist the US had recently deported to Syria. The incident caused such a kerfuffle the prime minister had to issue this clarification: "We are not a police state and we have no intention of being a police state." This, despite the fact that some of the officers dispatched to the reporter's apartment were from the RCMP's "the truth verification section." The raid happened in January, and the government is still reserving the right to prosecute her for the story. (The other day, she wrote about her experiences in Canada's National Post.)

Another issue that affects free speech in Canada is that they have fewer limitations on prior restraint than we do here. Judges can, and do, suppress verifiable information before that information is made public, something that happens only very rarely here. As the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out in 1998, this can have a grave impact on investigative reporting in Canada. To wit:

Canadian journalists face other obstacles, many of which would not pass muster under the U.S. Constitution. Broadcast journalists, for example, are forbidden to use language that does not display "sensitivity to problems relating to sexual stereotyping." Reporters are barred from reporting background on the case between the time charges are brought and the start of the trial. Judges can stop the broadcast of a documentary when a company complains that proprietary information would be revealed. Prior restraint of publication, anathema in the States, is permissible in Canada because, as its chief justice pointed out in a recent ruling, the country does not have a First Amendment.
I'm not going to get into an Google-powered inventory of all the problems this has caused over the years, but one incident that comes to mind is the suppression of details in a rather grisly rape/murder case there about 10 years ago. A judge prohibited journalists from printing details related to the case, and Canadians ended up smuggling in American papers to learn about the case. Fortunately, the internet had just begun to be accessible by the common person, so devoted Canadians set up a Usenet group to trade information about the case, which the government then tried to limit access to. After that turned out to be fruitless, Canada began to prosecute people who distributed photocopies of articles about the case. (In fairness, the judge who barred coverage of the case did so to ensure an accomplice's right to a fair trial, one of the few cases in which prior restraint is permissible here, though the publication ban went on for years after the trial ended, and journalists are still being charged with reporting on the case.)

Anyway, everybody who loves me knows I love Alanis and Canada, but she should take a closer look at her own country before she starts criticizing us.

Finally, I think Canada's free speech restrictions are extensive enough that it should give some pause to all those Americans thinking of heading north post-election.

categories: International, Media, Music, Politics
posted by adm at 6:28 PM | #