Free speech: More than meets the eye

By Ruth Davenport

Soft words can carry a big kick, as demonstrated by the latest initiative in civil liberties education.

On Thurs., May 3, the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre launched their newest educational video Freedom of Expression and All That Jazz. The video, created with funding provided by the Alberta Law Foundation, is intended to educate senior high school and university students on the significance of free speech and the laws which protect and limit it.

"I think that this is a very important topic on rights and responsibilities," said Human Rights Educator Pamela Dos Ramos, who was also the creative consultant for the video. "I’ve heard many students say ‘I have a right to speak’ or ‘I can say what I want’ and yes, you can say what you want–with limits. We need to understand what living in a democracy means. This is just taking one aspect of our rights as Canadians and looking at it in detail."

The video features a cast of University of Calgary drama students, Calgary lawyer Laurie Anderson and local celebrity Jebb Fink. The synopsis presents students who receive racially motivated hate e-mail and gather to film a panel discussion on the intricacies of freedom of expression.

"We had always wanted to do a project on freedom of expression," explained Linda McKay-Panos, Director of the ACLRC. "Once we got funding to do that, we thought that it would be really useful to have a video to accompany it."

"It was important for us to approach the subject from a perspective that would appeal to young people," added Dos Ramos, who explained that of several possibilities, the Internet scenario was chosen because it is current and relevant to younger audiences.

The video targets students in Grade 11 and higher studying Law, Social Studies, English, Political Science, Journalism and Teacher Education. It is also intended for community and human rights educators.

"We said Grade 11 and up because the law in this area is extremely abstract and complicated," said McKay-Panos. "We thought of university and college students as another good potential audience because this is when people are exploring freedom of thought and expression and exchange of ideas."

The ACLRC joined forces with the U of C Communications Media department to produce and market the video. As Dos Ramos explained, freedom of expression is governed by federal law, which enabled the marketing focus to expand beyond Alberta’s borders.

"The law around freedom of expression is federal, so the stuff that we did applies right across the country," said McKay-Panos. "There isn’t a lot of educational material for young people on freedom of expression. There are some videos by Canadian film groups, but they’re very dry and they don’t engage younger audiences."

The video has been well-received at inaugural viewings and creators anticipate widespread usage.

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