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Free Speech, Hate Speech, and the Problem of (Manufactured) Authority

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 October 2013

Dr. Sarah Sorial*
Senior LecturerFaculty of Law, Humanities and The ArtsThe University of WollongongWollongong, NSW


In this paper, I suggest that the concept of incitement as a way of identifying hate speech sometimes locates the harm caused by speech in the wrong sorts of places. Hate speech expressed in the form of “reasoned argument” or academic debate by persons with the relevant authority or expertise potentially causes more harm, though perhaps in less obvious ways. Literature on the concept of authority has demonstrated the way authoritative speakers or speakers with perceived expertise are able to secure uptake for their views. In this paper, I demonstrate how authority and expertise can also be manufactured, enabling speakers to secure uptake in the same sorts of ways as legitimately authoritative or expert speakers. While I am not suggesting legal penalties for speakers who manufacture authority in these ways, I am arguing that we should nevertheless be sensitive to the ways in which this can occur, how it might cause various kinds of harm, and how these harms might be mitigated.


Dans cet article, je suggère que la notion d’incitation, en tant que critère servant à déterminer si un discours est haineux, attribue de façon parfois erronée le tort causé par le discours. La propagande haineuse, prononcée sous le couvert d’une argumentation logique ou d’un débat académique par des individus possédant une autorité ou des expertises pertinentes, pourrait potentiellement être plus nuisible. La littérature sur le concept d’autorité démontre comment des experts ou des individus dans les positions de pouvoir jouissent d’une certaine facilité à convaincre. Dans cet article, je démontre comment une autorité ou une expertise peut aussi être fabriquée, soit une action permettant d’attribuer autant de pouvoir aux paroles que si les orateurs en question étaient légitimes. Mon intention n’est pas de suggérer que des sanctions juridiques sont nécessaires pour ceux qui falsifient leur autorité. Nous devons toutefois nous pencher sur la question afin d’examiner les conséquences néfastes de telles actions ainsi que de déterminer comment celles-ci peuvent être atténuées.

Copyright © Canadian Law and Society Association / Association Canadienne Droit et Société 2013 

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1 On the harms caused and/or constituted by hate speech, see for example MJ Matsuda, “Public Response to Racist Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story” (1989) 87:8 Mich L Rev 2320–81.

2 See Norwood v DPP, [2004] EWHC 69 (Admin); Hammond v DPP, [2004] EWHC 69 (Admin).

3 For example, the extreme right-wing group the Australia First party employs the language of love and care for white Australian identity and culture to justify its policies of zero-net migration and the abolition of multiculturalism. See Mason, G, “The Reconstruction of Hate Language” in Gelber, K & Stone, A, eds, Hate Speech and Freedom of Speech in Australia (Sydney: Federation Press, 2007) at 3458 Google Scholar [Mason]; and Jeremy, AW, “Religious Offences” (2003) 7:33 Ecclesiastical Law Journal 127–42.Google Scholar

4 Mason, supra note 3 at 43; Gelber, Katherine, Speaking Back: The Free Speech Versus Hate Speech Debate (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, 2002) at 19 Google Scholar; Van Dijk, TA, “Discourse and the Denial of Racism” (1992) 3:1 Discourse and Society 87118.Google Scholar

5 Mill, JS, On Liberty (London: Longman, Roberts & Green, 1869) at 119.Google Scholar

6 For example, much of the literature on the limits of speech draws on JL Austin’s speech act theory to demonstrate the ways in which speakers with the relevant authority are able to do more things with their words. Rae Langton uses these arguments to demonstrate the ways in which pornography is authoritative, while Maitra and McGowan demonstrate how authoritative persons are able to enact norms and impose obligations on others to do what they say. See Austin, JL, How to Do Things with Words (London: Oxford University Press, 1962)Google Scholar; Maitra, I & McGowan, MK, “The Limits of Free Speech: Pornography and the Question of Coverage” (2007) 13:1 Legal Theory 4168 Google Scholar [Maitra & McGowan]; Langton, R, “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” (1993) 22:4 Philosophy and Public Affairs 293330.Google Scholar

7 McGowan, MK, “Conversational Exercitives: Something Else We Do with Our Words” (2004) 27:1 Linguistics and Philosophy 93111 Google Scholar; McGowan, MK, “Oppressive Speech” (2009) 87:3 Australasian Journal of Philosophy 389407.Google Scholar

8 Maitra & McGowan, supra note 6.

9 Weinstein, J & Hare, I, “General Introduction: Free Speech, Democracy, and the Suppression of Extreme Speech Past and Present” in Hare, I & Weinstein, J, eds, Extreme Speech and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).Google Scholar

10 Post, Robert, “Hate Speech” in Hare, I & Weinstein, J, eds, Extreme Speech and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) 127.Google Scholar

11 Ibid.

12 Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) Division 80.

13 Racial Discrimination Act 1995 (Cth) ss 18B–18F.

14 Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) s 19.

15 Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) s 20D; Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld) s 131A; Racial Vilification Act 1996 (SA) s 4; Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) ss 24–25.

16 Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 319 (1) (2).

17 Canadian Human Rights Act, s 13(1).

18 R Moon, Report to the Canadian Human Rights Commission Concerning Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Hate Speech on the Internet (Canadian Human Rights Commission, October 2008) at 2 [Moon].

19 Ibid. at 15.

20 L McNamara, Regulating Racism: Racial Vilification Laws in Australia (Sydney Institute of Criminology, 2002).

21 Roundtable on Hate Crime and Vilification Law: Directions and Developments, Law School, University of Sydney, 28 August 2009.

22 Parliament of New South Wales, “Racial Vilification law in NSW,” last accessed 9 August 2013,

23 Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, 2007 SKOB 450.

24 Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, 2010 SKCA 26.

25 Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v Whatcott, 2013 SCC 11. See also Mugesera v Canada, where the Canadian Supreme Court described the elements of the section 319(2) offence of wilfully promoting hatred in very narrow terms. The Court defined “promote” as actively supporting or instigating and not simply encouraging. The term “hatred” refers to an “emotion of an intense and extreme nature that is clearly associated with vilification and detestation … only the most intense forms of dislike fall within the ambit of this offence” (at 104). However, proof is not required that the communication caused actual hatred. More generally, the law’s purpose is to prevent the risk of serious harm caused by hate propaganda; in determining these questions, the court must take into account the audience and the social and historical context of the speech (Moon, supra note 18 at 14). Despite these considerations, courts typically interpret the aforementioned legislative provisions in terms of a form/content distinction.

26 Section 14 of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code states:

14(1) No person shall publish or display, or cause or permit to be published or displayed, on any lands or premises or in a newspaper, through a television or radio broadcasting station or any other broadcasting device, or in any printed matter or publication or by means of any other medium that the person owns, controls, distributes or sells, any representation, including any notice, sign, symbol, emblem, article, statement or other representation:

(a) tending or likely to tend to deprive, abridge or otherwise restrict the enjoyment by any person or class of persons, on the basis of a prohibited ground, of any right to which that person or class of persons is entitled under law; or (b) that exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground.

27 Canada (Human Rights Commission) v Taylor, [1990] 3 SCR 892.

28 Whatcott v Saskatchewan (Human Rights Tribunal), 2007 SKQB 450 at 21.

29 Whatcott v Saskatchewan (Human Rights Tribunal), 2010 SKCA 26 at 138.

30 Ibid. at 116.

31 Snyder v Phelps, 562 U.S.__(2011).

32 Whatcott v Saskatchewan (Human Rights Tribunal), 2010 SKCA 26 at 119.

33 Kempling v College of Teachers (British Columbia), [2005] BCJ No 1288 at 76.

34 R v Keegstra, [1990] 3 SCR 697.

35 Moon, supra note 18 at 1.

36 See Fraser, D, “‘On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Nazi’: Some Comparative Legal Aspects of Holocaust Denial on the WWW”in Hare, I & Weinstein, J, eds, Extreme Speech and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) [Fraser].Google Scholar

37 Canadian Human Rights Act, s 13(2).

38 Citron and Toronto Mayor’s Committee v Zundel, 2002 CanLII 23557 (CHRT) at 122.

39 As Fraser puts it: “[T]he signifying sequence is not likely to subject Jews to hatred and contempt since Jews are already subject to hatred and contempt by those who deploy and invoke it. The hermeneutic circle of Holocaust deniers is a closed one.” Fraser, supra note 36 at 531.

40 Citron and Toronto Mayor’s Committee v Zundel, supra note 38 at 140.

41 Ibid. at 150.

42 Ibid. at 153–54 (emphasis added).

43 Jones v Toben (Corrigendum dated 20 April 2009), [2009] FCA 354 (16 April 2009).

44 Ibid. at 22 (emphasis added).

45 Nationalist Alternative, “About Us, last accessed 9 August 2013,

46 Ibid.

47 M Kennedy, “‘White Flight’ from schools,” Nationalist Alternative, October 28, 2011,

48 Australia First Party, “The 2006 Sydney Forum: 26–27 August 2006,” last accessed 9 August 2013,

49 R v Keegstra, [1990] 3 SCR 697.

50 Cohen, M, Report to the Minister of Justice of the Special Committee on Hate Propaganda in Canada (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1966)Google Scholar, cited in Moon, supra note 18 at 22.

51 R v Keegstra, [1990] 3 SCR 697, per Dickson CJ cited in Moon, supra note 18 at 22–23.

52 Gilbert, D, “How Mental Systems Believe” (1991) 46:2 American Psychologist 107–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

53 This is further substantiated by the empirical evidence about belief formation in online contexts; see Sunstein, CR, 2.0 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007) [Sunstein].Google Scholar

54 Cited in Goodwin, J, “Accounting for the Appeal to the Authority of Experts” (2011) 25 Argumentation 287 [Goodwin].CrossRefGoogle Scholar

55 Ibid.

56 Collins, H & Evans, R, Rethinking Expertise (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) at 56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

57 Ibid.

58 Ibid. at 47–48.

59 Goodwin, J, “Forms of Authority and the Real ad Verecundiam” (1988) 12 Argumentation 267–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar, cited in Goodwin, supra note 54 at 292.

60 Goodwin, supra note 54 at 292.

61 Fraser, supra note 36 at 522.

62 C McKinnon, “Should We Tolerate Holocaust Denial?” 2007) 13:1 Res Publica 22.

63 Ibid. at 23.

64 T Heinrichs, “Censorship as Free Speech! Free Expression Values and the Logic of Silencing in R v Keegstra” (1997–8) 36:4 Alta L Rev 850.

65 Moon, supra note 18 at 25.

66 Ibid. at 870.

67 Ibid.

68 Sunstein, supra note 53 at 58.

69 I’d like to thank Yvonne Apolo for her research assistance. This project was supported by an Understanding Canada grant (2012), funded by the Canadian Government.