This past week, we have been shocked by two repugnant stories coming out in the news. The first was the video posted online where a group of onlookers encourage a homeless man to light his hair on fire. Despite public outrage, the police say there is very little they can do, saying there is no evidence of any assault on screen. CTV News reports that last year police became involved when a similar video was posted showing a man paying $50 to another man to kick him in the groin. Apparently no charges were ever laid in that case. Chances are, if police ever interviewed the person who was kicked in the groin, he was unwilling to cooperate with police or give a statement. From my experience dealing with vulnerable or marginalized people, they often have no interest or trust in the criminal justice system. These types of cases show the stark limits the law has when it comes to protecting incredibly vulnerable people. Social media, however, has demonstrated that there is overwhelming support in the community to end this type of victimization.
The other story that came to our attention this week is that of Julien Blanc, self-proclaimed pick-up artist. I imagine like many people, prior to this week I had no knowledge of this person or his business. I like many others learned what Blanc was about by the #TakeDownJulienBlanc campaign started by a woman named Jenn Li. Due to this campaign, which started several other similar campaigns, within 10 days Blanc’s Australian visa was revoked, South Korea and Brazil have denied him visas for his tour, and he has cancelled his Canadian and Japanese tour dates.
Blanc sells seminars to men on how to seduce women. Li started her campaign against Blanc when she saw a video of Blanc giving such a seminar on how to pick up Japanese women. In the video, he tells his audience that being a white male in Japan means its okay to walk up to women grab their heads and pull them in towards your crotch. There is a clip of him demonstrating this action on a number of women. One of the highlights of Blanc’s Twitter feed is a tweet describing a checklist, a pie chart made to teach victims of domestic abuse about the various forms of abuse.
Australia, South Korea, and Brazil have managed to ensure that Blanc cannot be legally giving his seminars in their country, but what about Canada? Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, was urged by Canadians to take similar action. Alexander voiced his agreement with Canadians stating that Blanc’s content was completely counter to Canadian values and decency. He stated that he would look at our options and use every tool at our disposal to protect the rule of law on Canadian soil.
In Canada, we have a charter right that protects freedom of thought, opinion, and expression. Expression is a wide term, but does not include violence. It also does not include hate speech. So, with that in mind, can we keep Blanc out of Canada legally?
Here we have a man who publishes and promotes material that encourages men to be violent towards women for the purposes of procuring sex.
In Canada, section 319(2) of the Criminal Code states that it is an offence to communicate statements, other than in private conversation, which willfully promote hatred against any identifiable group.
Considering that in a vacuum, one could see how by today’s standards, Blanc’s content could possibly be considered hate speech against women. However, if we scratch the surface, we learn that it’s not that simple. Section 318 (4) of the Criminal Code defines identifiable group as any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Women as a whole would not be considered an identifiable group.
Weighing in on Alexander’s comments is Toronto lawyer, Andy Semotiuk, a Forbes contributor. Semotiuk describes Blanc’s content as offensive, but not in the realm of where he could be rightfully denied entry to Canada. Like the case of the homeless man setting his hair on fire, we have repugnant action, but nothing that quite crosses the line and makes the statement or the action illegal.
As is often the case in real life, we’ve reached the limits of what the current law can do to advance a social issue happening in real time. Luckily, for Alexander, he no longer needs to deal with the thorny issue of allowing Blanc into Canada as Li’s clicktivist campaign has been hugely successful. There is a lot to be said for clicktivism and the power of socially-minded groups of individuals to make it difficult for a person to make a living promoting violence against women. If you want to read more about the #TakeDownJulienBlanc campaign, see Janey Stephenson’s article in the Independent (U.K.).