McQUARRIE – There is no immunity from the consequences of free speech

HAS YOUR PARTNER ever asked for an opinion that is difficult, if not dangerous to respond to honestly? Questions about how that new dress looks, or what you think about the moustache that was supposed to go at the end of Movember; those kinds of questions, the ones requiring a fair degree of tact.

They are, as experience has taught us, not the harmless, off-handed questions they might appear to be. Yet, if you want to cross that bridge of tactless responses, you can and do so knowing that our Charter of Rights has your back.

Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees your right to think anything you want, believe in anything that catches your fancy and express an opinion, even an opinion about that dress or that beard.

However, there is an implicit understanding that is not covered in the Charter. It is called consequences and many an argument about having the right to say anything you want, omits this crucial accountability piece to the equation.

Let’s suppose for a moment that you believe your boss and the entire management team couldn’t lead a walk around the block, let alone a company. You express your opinion at the monthly team meeting with something like: “You people, with your fancy MBA’s know nothing. It’s your kind that are giving this company a bad name!”

The likelihood of you making it to the next monthly team meeting is at best slim. Hopefully, though, with all this unexpected and newly acquired spare time, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of the relationship between your rights and your consequences.

Speaking one’s mind may be momentarily satisfying but the results may outlive that brief sense of satisfaction.

Don Cherry is a recent example of ignoring consequences. Yes, he had the right to say what he did but sometimes it is best to engage one’s brain before one’s mouth. He didn’t and like those before him, he paid the price.

In the abstract, one can debate the age-old question: is it okay to (falsely) yell FIRE in a crowded theatre?  However, I think the real-world, personal interactions we face every day are a more honest opportunity to discuss what freedom of expression is really about.

When do hurtful words and the right to say them supersede decency, tact and common sense?  Why is there a need to replace diplomacy and constructive dialogue with hate disguised as a freedom?

When we exercise our freedom of expression, we are not granted immunity from the consequences of those words or our actions.  And holding the Charter out as one’s license to say those words is not justification. It does not make bad words righteous or a shallow and callous phrase virtuous.  Held up to the light of day, they are still nothing more than a lame and implausible attempt to justify the inexcusable.

The ideals behind freedom of expression and the wars that have been fought to maintain that right, were sacrifices made for a higher ideal than gutter talk.

Bill McQuarrie is a former magazine publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at

About Mel Rothenburger (8582 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on McQUARRIE – There is no immunity from the consequences of free speech

  1. Sean McGuinness // November 17, 2019 at 1:45 PM // Reply

    We’ve been hearing that Don Cherry had the right to express himself. But he also had the privilege of speaking his mind to millions of viewers. For people in this position, there should be a high bar for what one says. National television, least of all Hockey Night in Canada, is not a place to air gripes about specific groups of people, least of all immigrants who are already under siege. I’m happy to see that in Canada we have standards which apply to everyone.
    Good for you Sportsnet.

  2. Decency, tact and common sense in the context of giving opinions are really on the receiver’s end of the conversation. Unless off course foul, coarse language is accompanied by threatening gestures and frothy mouths excessive interlocutory sophism is, arguably, what has led us to wars. I have been following the discourse centered around the concept of “comforting conformism” and I can say with candor that I do fully understand what you are hereby saying Mr. McQuarrie but I totally don’t agree with your stance. To the ones easily offended by a little “immediacy” I only have one thing to say toughen up! And instead of gossiping behind one’s back use a reasoned argument as a consequence.

  3. Dave Monsees // November 17, 2019 at 5:24 AM // Reply

    Well written. You have covered the “Rest of the Story” so to speak, that all the Freedom Fighters fail to understand. A lot of people need to read this before jumping into the fire.

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