Democracy & Freedom of Expression

Canadian Parliament building, Ottawa

This month’s discussion topic is democracy and freedom of expression, or more importantly, how these two concepts connect for teens and young adults. Our columnists bring up some excellent points, not the least of which is the fact that many of them are not able to vote and therefore can’t participate in the most sacred democratic rite: voting day. They unanimously value the right to criticize their government and leaders, take advantage of forums that are available to them and lucidly point out over and over again, that if we aren’t free to speak our minds and express our opinions, we simply aren’t free.  Here’s what they had to say:

Sam, Grade 12

What would I do without freedom of speech? I spend a lot of time trying to understand the delicate intricacies of political irony and a mess of all other sorts of strange things. I need this to get through the depressing news hour, unless it ends with an animal story. Let’s talk about rock concerts and rallies and people holding cardboard signs in the rain. That’s the kind of democracy we get to have as youths. Instead of sitting in a booth and checking off a name on a ballot, we get to yell at people about things we don’t like. It’s how we affect the system. And besides, student council events and executives are voted on internally. What kind of democracy is that? I think the biggest users of free speech are politicians. If the measure of your leader is based on their actions, what good would it do to not be allowed to critique them? You measure the opposition by what they say to the press. In fact, you measure everyone in politics by what they say to the press. If Mitt Romney wants to insult 47 percent of voters, he can go right ahead and do it. There’s free speech in America, too, and they like it a lot. But if the question is about the ties of freedom of speech to democracy, well, it is actually very simple. Democracy simply can’t exist without freedom of speech. Without that basic right, there would be a police officer standing over you at the ballot box, and the second you put down an “unacceptable” name, the officer would drag you away. I’m pretty happy about not being dragged away when I go to vote.

Erin, Grade 11

Freedom of speech lies at the heart of democracy – part of the reason why it’s included in the laws of so many diverse nations. If the public were silenced, or even a significant portion of it, would we live in a true democracy? No, we wouldn’t. Freedom of speech means I’m at liberty to announce loud and clear that I think Mitt Romney is a dimwit and that his campaign for President is utter tripe – all this without being shot or locked up. It’s at the heart of political process and makes a democracy what it is – people speaking for the people, after all.

However, it’s been debated time and time again whether or not those under eighteen are deserving of the right to speak for themselves. Though we’re accorded the same rights as adults when it comes to freedom of expression, we don’t get to vote or speak out in many other public forums. It’s important that we do when we get the chance. It’s important because choices that are being made for us by politicians today will affect us directly as we grow up. Youth can leave a significant mark on the world by contributing their opinions – think of petitions and letter-writing campaigns, actions that don’t require the participant to be of age in most instances.

We’re capable and conscientious folks, despite what our elders say – we just need to seize the proverbial day.

Vegas, Grade 12

The connection between freedom of expression and democracy is quite simple: without freedom of expression, we wouldn’t have democracy…for adults, at least. As minors, our freedoms are limited by many laws and regulations in our society. An example of this is not being able to vote until you’re eighteen in Canada. As a young Canadian citizen, I find this law to be, without question, undemocratic. If every Canadian is ‘equal’ then why can’t we all have a say on who’s to govern us under a democracy? Many adults think it’s because if we can’t do similar things to them, our opinions and wants don’t matter. Who is to say a fifteen-sixteen year old doesn’t care whether the Conservatives, Liberals or even the NDP win? There are many teenagers who do care about freedom of speech and we don’t get a lot of opportunities to show it in our time as young citizens of Canada. Some young citizens feel trapped within their own opinion on many things simply because they are minors. They aren’t ‘mature’ enough to form a distinguished opinion. This affects young citizens greatly because we’re indirectly being told by society that our opinions and wishes aren’t important until we’re eighteen. Freedom of expression is crucial to our youth and we need more outlets to express those locked up thoughts! It doesn’t seem like we have anything else as minors but hidden opinions and unheard voices within our nation.

Crystal, Grade 11

Freedom of expression is very much associated with democracy because democracy would be invalid without it. Without it, citizens wouldn’t be able to vote or have free access to the information on which they’re voting. In the political sense, freedom of speech is also emphasized during debate sessions between parties, and is essential to running the system.
There are restrictions to freedom of speech, however, and one may not deliberately infringe on fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter of Rights.

As a young Canadian citizen, the right to freedom of expression is important to me because I know that being in a democracy, I have the right to openly express my opinions without the risk of censorship. In my opinion, in this democratic society, freedom of expression signifies safety; I am protected the country’s constitution. It’s also important for youth to be able to voice their opinions because we’re the future. We must speak out and tell others how we feel about issues here and around the world today. That way, we become involved in affairs and feel more comfortable with that by the time we reach legal age. By adding our voices to the mix, whoever and wherever we are, our input is given to the surrounding world and thus the feeling of belonging is gained, for our opinions are made known.

What do you think?
To join the conversation, send your letters to mindseye@nysa.bc.ca.

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