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May 9th, 2016

Freedom of speech is a VERY sharp double edged sword

I came across a story where an individual made some pretty thoughtless comments about the Fort McMurray, AB, Canada fires, suggesting they were Karmic justice for their support of the oil industry.

Given the vast scale and impact of the Fort Mac fires, thousands of people were understandably outraged - Enough so to contact the individuals' employer to suggest they would no longer patronize their business, if this was the type of person they chose to employ.

The employer suspended the worker without pay and donated said pay to the Red Cross for their disaster victims relief fund.

You have the legal right to be a (text) monster

A freedom of speech argument immediately began, which raised some very valid and salient points:

  • In Canada, just like any other free nation, one has the right to express themselves, even if such expression is reprehensible or disagreeable. This is an inarguable fact - Not only is it law, but it is guaranteed within the Charter of Rights and freedoms: It is inalienable.
  • So, the argument goes, what right did the employer have to punish an employee for making a statement on his own time, using his own resources, with no direct tie to the employer ? What right did the employer have to act as police, judge and jury, in effect, charging and convicting the man, without his Charter guaranteed right to a trial before a jury of his peers ?

    The legal answer is: Absolutely none, unless, of course, he had a morals and standards clause in his employment contract - But most of us can think of many an example where we know such a clause did not exist, yet an employer has nonetheless gotten away with an extra-judiciary punishment against an employee for 'conduct unbecoming', even though such conduct was outside of their workplace and utterly unrelated. (For the sake of both clarity and full disclosure: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV)

    The public has the legal right to NOT support businesses who employ (text) monsters

    Here's where that second edge of the freedom of speech sword comes in - the one that cuts on the back-swing:

    I have every right to say something horrible or objectionable, as is guaranteed by the Charter. HOWEVER: Everyone else ALSO has the same right to say 'You, Ms/Mr Employer, employ such a person ? I shall never shop in your establishment again!'

    And therein lies the kicker: While the employee absolutely has the right to say what they want to say, in this day and age of instant and global communications - and consequences thereof - Objectionable speech can literally result in the termination of a business as a viable entity; If a business loses all sales due to the abhorrence of an employee, they no longer have the means to pay such employees, whether they support them or not.

    Could the employee sue the employer for the suspension (assuming there was no 'morals and standards' clause) ? Probably. They'd probably even win. The next kicker is that such a fight, especially against a small employer, would more than likely bankrupt both the employee and employer, thus redefining the term 'Pyrrhic Victory'

    What's a troll to do ?

    In the essence of fairness: What's a troll to do, if they absolutely must spread hate, vitriol and generally uneducated comments about the world ?

    Use an anonymous account. Something that is not tied in any way, shape or form to your real identity, location, employer or friends.

    Of course, there's a caveat to that, too: People who post anonymously tend to be viewed a lot less credibly, simply because they are not willing to personally stand behind their own names.

    Personally, I can't say I feel much pity for those in that situation, but then again: I use my real name when communicating to the public.

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