Wednesday, March 03, 2004
It's Happening Again [UPDATED - Twice, Even]

For those who are worried about Howard Stern, perhaps you should turn your eyes north. You know, to get a look at real government censorship [from the print edition of the National Post - those of you who subscribe can find the article online here]:

HALIFAX - The Nova Scotia government has published a list of words and phrases it wants banished from the news media, including "madman," "nutcase," "fruitcake," and "kooky," and will pay people for reporting their use.
So they're paying citizens to turn in those who violate speech codes?
The Health Department is offering cash awards to citizens who inform authorities of instances of "outdated, negative, inappropriate" terms it considers offensive to people with mental illness.
Yep. They sure are.
The government even says "mental hospital" and "nervous breakdown" should be verboten, not only in stories dealing with the mentally ill, but in all public discourse.
It gets worse. Public discourse?! Attention those of you who enjoy free speech: avoid visiting Nova Scotia.

But notice the use of editorial slant in the word choice by the reporter (Richard Foot) - 'verboten.' This is alarmingly apropos.
Added the province's Health Minister, Angus MacIsaac: "This initiative will show us if and how media need more guidance and education."
Guidance? Education? Government interference with the media? That's some fairly scary stuff you're throwing around there, Mr. MacIsaac.
Dave Wilson, Nova Scotia's opposition Liberal party health critic, thinks the government's health officials have lost their marbles on this one - although he can't say that because "losing your marbles" is one of the government's blacklisted phrases.
Well whaddya know? I agree with a Liberal party member! And kudos again for Mr. Foot's editorial commentary.
The unwanted words and phrases were handed down by the government's Anti-Stigma/Discrimination Working Group...
Ahhh, here's the problem!
...and the Canadian Mental Health Association, which is a partner in the media survey.

For the next six months, Nova Scotians are being asked to take home a pair of checklists - one for mental illness and one for suicide - and report back on how newspapers, television, and radio newscasts treat these subjects and whether they use any of the targeted words in other stories.
Okay, look. This is just wrong. I agree - the stigma against mental illness is an issue. But this is not the way to deal with it! Especially not by offering cash prizes for those who do comply!
"I think this is a fun way to get some information," said Carol Tooton, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Nova Scotia.

"We're hoping to get a good picture of how the media covers issues relating to mental health in the province. And we're trying to send the message that people should be watchdogs in their community, to pay particular attention to news items they hear about or read." [Emphasis added]
Okay, this is just too much. Stop the presses, people - this is censorship. It's government sponsored, and it flies in the face of the right to free speech. I can't think of language that is strong enough to adequately display my disgust and abhorrence.

You cannot change people's minds by forcing them to change their speech. If I'm going to use ethnic slurs, or stigmatize the mentally ill, then I'm a horrid person - but I still have the right to say what I want. My rights to speech are still enshrined in both the Bill of Rights (US) and the Charter of Rights & Freedoms (CAN) - though at the rate Canada's going (hate speech as a crime, arresting ministers for speaking against homosexuality, legislating the ban on English in Quebec, legislating the use of French in the ROC, legislating what words the media can and cannot use in their stories), I won't be allowed to speak my mind up here in a few years.

Take one last look at this story, and notice the classic rhetorical device - disclaim, then say it anyway:
"I'm not one of these politically correct stalwarts that comb the language looking for examples of words that might offend someone, "Dr. [Steven] Kisely [chairman of the government's Anti-Stigma working group] said.
But we need to see a general move away from the indiscriminate use of words likes schizophrenic and psychotic. Sloppy language perpetuates a view in people's minds that mentally ill people are very strange or bizarre or dangerous." [Emphasis added]
Tell me, doctor: how does one diagnose a mental illness? I mean, what's the primary symptom? Odd and strange behavior. Huh. Funny, but you just pointed out that we need to stop thinking the mentally ill are strange. The thing is, though, that they are. By definition, that which is not normal is abnormal, is strange.

As far as not calling the mentally ill dangerous, why do we have asylums? What is the purpose of housing the drastically mentally ill in a location away from the rest of society, in a building, more often than not, that has been constructed to prevent their leaving? Perhaps because their disfunctions have the risk of turning them into violent people? Maybe?

You've basically said that we need to ignore the fact that these people are not the same as we are; that they have very real malfunctions in their minds that may or may not be treatable, and may or may not pose a threat to the rest of us. I'm all for the ridding ourselves of derogatory slurs, and the reduction of stigma, but let's not leave our brains behind, okay? And for goodness sake - you can't legislate this! It's madness! (Oops! It's a good thing I don't live in Nova Scotia, or I might get fined!)

Portions of the article, run in a different paper, can be found online for free here. A HatTip goes to Daimnation! for the link. In other update news, I edited this post for grammatical quibbles, and to properly cite added emphasis.

Brian over at Peeve Farm comments, and then explores the differences between the US's First Amendment, and Canada's Fundamental Freedoms clause.
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