Legal but offensive

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:

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.

Published by Chris

I'm an author, freelance writer, dad, and civic busybody living in London, Ontario

3 thoughts on “Legal but offensive

  1. Did she not use the word to demonstrate her disgust over a poster and how she feels it degrades women? Was it not an effective use of language to communicate emotion: “The offence you feel when I speak this word is the offence I feel when I see that poster.”

  2. There is no acceptable use of a racial slur. She could have used appropriate language to describe the feeling of offence she experienced.

  3. I suspect that she did first attempt to use “appropriate language” and failed. She watched others allow a gender-slurring poster to be continued carried on public buses; something just as offensive to the councillor as any, single word. She only finally received attention by escalating the degree of disgust to match what was happening. To credit her, she did not use the word in its loaded, insulting form. She used it in “what if” example.

    I disagree with her use of the word solely for its shock-value, however. That is just stunt-driving with language for attention.

    I am more disappointed in a society that fears language than one that sits politely and inoffensively silent when they witness the respect of others being abused. Always speak up when you see others being put down, even if some one might not like what you say.

Leave a Reply to Todd Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: