Should there be limits on freedom of speech? Last week, Michael Enright opened the program with some thoughts about Tom Flanagan, and about a decision by the Supreme Court.
Tom Flanagan, a professor at the University of Calgary, asked whether the viewing of child pornography should be punishable by a jail sentence. When his thoughts were made public, a wave of public opprobrium swept across the land.
Professor Flanagan was widely censured for his remarks and as Michael reported, quickly became "academic road-kill".
The Supreme Court, meanwhile, found that an anti-gay crusader in Saskatchewan was guilty of hate speech.
provoked a huge response. Here are a few representative selections from the mail that came our way.
Barry Cooper, who teaches political science at the University of Calgary, and is also a columnist in the Calgary Herald wrote:
"Michael, you noted that you hardly ever agree with Tom, which is fair enough since I hardly ever agree with you. But your remarks were simply excellent. Tom was treated very badly, both by those politicians for whom he did so much to ensure whatever success they now enjoy, and by our administrative superiors at this institution."
Rebecca O'Brien from Edmonton wrote:
"I don't think there has been much that I have found in common with Mr. Flanagan over the years, quite the opposite. But I have been saddened by the visceral response to his comments. Many of those who I would consider to be of the same political ilk as myself, resorted to character assassination, with no interest in taking up a debate. It is the Fox - News - Tea - Party - style of the liberal progressive, twisting Mr. Flanagan's words, screaming "shame", and shutting down the discussion that is so disturbing to me."
Martha Cheney from Ladner, BC wrote:
"I too believe in the right to express views that I may find abhorrent, but I also believe this whole topic of what the media calls "child pornography" needs to be examined much more closely.
"I see "pornography" as sexual photos or videos created by consenting, often paid, adults, who want to make and look at such images. In contrast, 'child pornography' is an image, photo or video of a child being sexually abused or tortured. It is a completely different thing. It is an image of a horrific crime being committed. Pornography is not.
"The continued viewership and market for these pictures is creating more victims every day. I do agree it was Flanagan's right to state his beliefs, as it is mine to state mine."
Marilyn Spriggs rom Baie d'Urfé, QC wrote:
"I too believe that Professor Flanagan's remarks questioning whether jail time for those who watch child pornography is an appropriate subject for debate. What you didn't mention is that he also said that no one was hurt when someone looks at child pornography in the privacy of their home. From my recollection of the presentation he made at the University of Lethbridge, that was the point at which the young audience reacted and booed him.
"The emotional response of people and media across the country is a result of his claiming that viewing child pornography can be separated from the act of making and distributing it. This is consistent with his libertarian point of view.
"I have watched Tom Flanagan on CBC often and have enjoyed his insight and humour on political issues, even though I do not have a conservative bone in my body. I do not think he should be vilified, but I do think he was wrong in suggesting that viewing child sexual exploitation is a victimless crime."
"Defending Flanagan to defend freedom of speech is all nice and well, and yes, the right is there to defend the speech we hate rather than the one we already agree with. All good.
"But let's not forget two things: Professor Flanagan is still a free man, he still can profess to his opinions as an employee of a university, so where exactly has he lost his right to free speech? As far as I know, this right doesn't come with the privilege to speech as a CBC commentator.
"And secondly, portraying child porn as a victimless crime is not a matter of opinion. It's factually wrong since the production of child porn implies the victimization of a child. Critiquing that position, and voicing one's opposition to it, has to be part of free speech as well!"
Ernest Dunphy from Toronto wrote:
"A society that is not afraid of tough questions and can clearly show why its actions are appropriate is a strong society. A society which hides behind laws to shut up unpopular views is a timid and weak society.
"When I think of free speech I think of two quotes. The first by Voltaire goes like this 'I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.'
"The second is shorter and comes from Garrison Keillor - 'the most un-American thing you can say is 'you can not say that'.' It is a sad day in this country when the Supreme Court does not really believe in free speech."
Ken Agar from Tidnish, NS wrote:
"I had Tom Flanagan as a professor at the University of Calgary in the early 70's. I can just hear him create the argument that he formulated. He challenged my thoughts and issues of concern, always principled and always a demanding belief in the challenge of debate.
"I viewed the video, and the man was baited. He was set up. And someone took advantage of the situation. This is wrong.
"Tom Flanagan and I part ways on how to govern, but we are in complete agreement on the right to debate and discuss the issues of the day.
"It is sad in our society that we must now be 'correct' in our thinking. This has hollow resonance back to the dark days of the cold war and the demand for conformation to the group think."
Thanks to everyone who wrote to us. If you missed Michael's essay, you can hear it and read it by clicking here
. If you'd like to respond to anything you hear on the program please send an email to email@example.com