Little Freedom of Expression
Freedom of expression, like the air we breathe, is a luxury that most people in western civilization take for granted. I know I certainly took it for granted when I was in the twelfth grade, and that presumption almost got me expelled. In Cornwall, Ontario this last December the idea of freedom of speech did more than get a young man expelled. He was forced to spend the better part of a month, including Christmas, New Year's Eve, and his sixteenth birthday in jail. Finally there is the case of the former mayor of Mukingo in Ruhengeri Prefecture, Juvenal Kejelijeli, who is desperately fighting deportation to face charges for his "freedom of expression," which helped ignite genocide in Rwanda. Free speech and freedom of expression must be protected, but the speakers and writers must also take responsibility for their actions.
During the twelfth grade my belief in freedom of expression was put to the test. When I was given an assignment to write a short story for my grade twelve creative writing class on any subject I wanted; I made the mistake of doing what I was told. It was, admittedly, a disturbing story, filled with vengeful death, anti-religious sentiment and gross sexual abuse written by a confused young man. However, none of the characters had any basis in reality, and none of the violence could be associated with any specific people or institutions. This was purely a work of fiction and it almost got me kicked out of private school in England. Not only was I afraid of the reaction I was going to get from my father, but it also shook the very foundations of my beliefs in free speech and freedom of expression. A work of fiction, regardless of the content, is still just a work of fiction and should not be censored. After all, many of today's best selling authors routinely have books published that include murder and excessive violence. It is completely illogical to assume that they are going to go out into the real world and blow up an oil refinery because they blew one up in their story. Fortunately my Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Stevenson, went to bat for me. He felt strongly about freedom of expression and convinced the dean, his boss, that I should not be expelled for my story as I was simply doing what I was told. He gave me an A on the assignment but more importantly he restored my faith in freedom of expression.
Fictional stories should not be chargeable offences, but we should be aware of what may be written between the lines. When the characters in the story are directly related to living people, when the violence occurs in reality based settings, like the author's school, people take notice. Suddenly the value of freedom of expression becomes a hazy issue. People get their backs up and an author could wind up spending Christmas in jail. This was the case in Avonmore Ontario, a small town near Cornwall, where a fifteen year old boy spent a month in jail, charged with uttering a death...