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More than half of Canadians say freedom of speech is under threat, new poll suggests

A new poll suggests a majority of Canadians feel their right to freedom of speech is in danger.

The Leger online survey found 57 per cent of respondents who said free speech in Canada is under threat.

Of those, 34 per cent said it was “somewhat” threatened, while 23 per cent said they consider the threat a serious one.

Some 36 per cent said their free-speech rights were in no danger, while seven per cent said they didn’t know or did not answer.

Three out of four respondents — 76 per cent — said they currently feel comfortable expressing their views, but only 71 per cent when it comes to more controversial subjects such as abortion, gun control and immigration.

Leger surveyed 1,610 Canadians from April 26 to April 28. Online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

The feelings of respondents about the issue of free speech divided neatly along familiar political fault lines.

Among those who said they plan to vote Conservative in the next federal election, 76 per cent said they fear free speech is in peril in Canada.

Among would-be Liberal voters, 61 per cent said they do not feel free speech is threatened, while New Democrat supporters were almost evenly divided.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre often accuses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of censoring opinions he dislikes, an argument he has used to denounce the government’s proposed Online Harms Act.

The legislation would make social media companies more accountable in protecting users — especially those under 18 — from harmful online behaviour, including terrorist content and that which can be used to bully a child.

Justice Minister Arif Virani insists the bill strikes the right balance between better protecting Canadians and upholding the Charter right to freedom of expression.

The legislation has also come under heavy scrutiny for proposing stiffer penalties for hate speech offences, including reintroducing a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act that would allow people to file complaints against those who post online hate speech.

While civil liberties advocates say they feel that provision could chill speech, justice officials have said it would only apply to the most extreme examples.

The poll results suggest Canadians are split on the question of whether free speech should be limited.

Some 44 per cent of respondents said their values align most closely with imposing limits that would block hate speech and “preaching a form of intolerance.”

Another 45 per cent, meanwhile, said they were closer to the view that free speech should never be limited to allow “all opinions to be debated publicly.”

Another 11 per cent said they did not know or declined to answer.

Among Conservative supporters, 60 per cent said they were most in favour of having no limits on free speech, compared with 64 per cent of Liberal voters and 66 per cent of NDP supporters who said they feel the opposite.

When asked about a recent increase in hateful sentiment, 29 per cent of respondents blamed a lack of respect between people, while 20 per cent said social media was to blame.

Another 13 per cent of respondents cited a “degradation of the moral fibre” of Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2024.

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