In city council chambers last night, one of our councillors decided to make her point about being offended by offending the majority of people listening. Councillor Sandy White said the “n-word”. Here’s the newspaper article with the context: http://www.lfpress.com/2013/03/05/london-politician-drops-n-word-bomb
In addition to the understandable outrage that most people responded with, there were 2 interesting semi-defenses of her statement.
1. That she was in the “heat of the moment” and had poor judgement, so we should cut her some slack. The problem with this defense is that Ms. White stated that her daughter told her to use the word for “shock value”. This was a planned offence.
2. That the free speech protections we enjoy as a society should excuse Ms. White from criticism or community backlash. This second defense depends upon a common incorrect interpretation of the rights given by free speech.
Our fundamental freedom of speech, protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, means that the government cannot make it illegal to express your opinion (with some exceptions, like hate speech or libel). So Ms. White is absolutely free to use that offensive language without fear of being criminally charged. Her fundamental freedom to speak has not been hampered in any way.
However, just because she can legally say it, does not mean that it was appropriate language to use. Racial slurs have no place in public discourse, and they certainly have no place in the official statements made by our elected officials. In choosing to use such offensive language, Ms. White has violated our community standards, and she has demeaned the office that she holds. You cannot obtain permission to use a racial slur, you cannot justify it by being emotionally upset, and you cannot hold yourself to a lower standard than the people and the community you represent.