STFU: What Everyone Keeps Getting Wrong About ‘Free Speech’

In 2013, Phil Robertson, the patriarch of America’s “Duck Dynasty”, gave an interview with GQ Magazine and to the question of, “What, in your mind, is sinful”, had the following to say:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Though his list was not comprehensive (he forgot “bigoted hicks with too much money”), it was thorough enough for A&E, the network on which Duck Dynasty was being aired, to suspend Robertson from the show “indefinitely”. Viewers were outraged, as were some well-known politicians, and thanks to much petitioning and the heart-warming hashtag, #IStandWithPhil, A&E lifted its suspension just one week later and Robertson was back on the show trying to figure out door knobs.


A little closer to home, outside a Toronto FC game in May of 2015, Shauna Hunt was hosting a live broadcast for CityNews. During her broadcast, some guy coasted through the background of the camera shot and yelled the infamous, “F— her right in the p—-!” Shawn Simoes, a friend of the heckler and employee of Hyrdo One, was challenged by Hunt on camera, asking if he thought such behavior was appropriate and impressive. To that line of questioning, he replied:

“I don’t care, I think it’s f***ing hilarious…You’re lucky there’s not a f***ing vibrator near here, because in England, it happened all the time, it’s f***ing amazing and I respect it all the time.”

And just to clarify, the words “amazing” and “respect” were not in reference to spine surgery or Tsunami relief – they were in reference to yelling “f— her in the p—-” at a female broadcaster while she does her job on live television. And yes, I think we’re all lucky that the men did not bring along their vibrators.

Within a few days, Simoes was fired by Hydro One and MLSE banned him from their grounds. A week later, it was reported that Simoes had submitted a personal apology letter to Hunt, and then six months after that, following an “arbitration process”, Simoes was rehired.

Coursing through the veins of these reversals was enthusiastic support for section 2b of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution: freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

What was conveniently omitted from the culprits’ defense though, was an appreciation for the freedom of a private commercial enterprise to fire your ass when you say dumb s— that either doesn’t align with their corporate values, or may one day have a negative material impact on business dealings and brand goodwill.

Should you be allowed to use Twitter in North Korea, China and Iran? Yes. If you have been convicted of a crime of which you believe you are innocent, should you be able to make certain public remarks about the case in an attempt to informally appeal your conviction and challenge the potential faults of a profoundly dominant system? Yes.

Should you be given immunity from all forms of professional recourse after you blurt out inane trash to the entire planet? No, that’s not how this works.

Similar to how most companies won’t let you show up to a client meeting wearing a swastika necklace and a shirt that says, “Free Moustache Rides”, you can’t expect a private employer in the business of impressing the marketplace to just suck it up when you publicly exercise a controversial application of your civil liberties.

As Stuart Rudner concisely outlined in an article published on HRReporter,

“Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences…This guarantee [our Charter] means that, with certain exceptions, an individual will not be subject to criminal prosecution or conviction as a result of what they say…It does not mean you cannot lose your job, or be suspended from school, or suffer any adverse consequences.”

For those out there who are still opposed to this logic – and there are many – on grounds that “It’s just an opinion and everyone is allowed to have one,” allow me to remind you that, despite endless campaigns for their exemption from “judgment,” not all opinions are created equal; some opinions are tragically f—ing stupid.

– This Public Service Announcement has been brought to you by the wonderful world of scientific research, analytics and rational deduction –

If it is “your opinion” that people should avoid texting while drunk driving through school zones, congratulations: given what we know, and what we’ve experienced thus far on earth, you have a sensible opinion. If it is “your opinion” that pedophiles should get a discount at Pizza Hut, or that men who are physically attracted to other men both will and should spend eternity in a giant, mythical furnace, congratulations: given what we know, and what we’ve experienced thus far on earth, you have a stupid opinion.

Again, you are more than welcome to express your dumbass opinions wherever and whenever you want – according to our Charter, nobody should try to stop you (outside of that pesky “hate propaganda” stuff in our Criminal Code). They are your opinions and you should feel empowered, as a privileged citizen of a free society, to voice them at any moment you so feel compelled.

Just make sure you preserve those very same principles when the people who sign your paycheques effectively inform you of their opinion that you’re an a–hole who might jeopardize the prosperity of their business.