More than half of Canadians say freedom of expression is threatened, new poll suggests

A new poll suggests a majority of Canadians feel their right to free speech is at risk.

Leger’s online survey found that 57 per cent of respondents said freedom of expression in Canada is threatened.

Of those, 34 percent said they were “somewhat” threatened, while 23 percent said they considered the threat serious.

About 36 percent said their free speech rights were not in jeopardy, while seven percent said they did not know or did not respond.

Three in four respondents (76 percent) said they currently feel comfortable expressing their views, but only 71 percent when it comes to more controversial topics such as abortion, gun control and immigration.

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

Respondents’ feelings on the issue of free speech divided clearly 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 freedom of expression is at risk in Canada.

Among likely liberal voters, 61 percent 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 doesn’t like, an argument he has used to denounce the government’s proposed Online Harms Act.

The legislation would make social media companies more responsible for protecting users, especially those under 18, from harmful online behavior, including terrorist content and content that could be used to bully a child.

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

The legislation has also come under intense scrutiny for proposing harsher penalties for hate speech crimes, including the reintroduction of a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act that would allow people to file complaints against those who post hate speech on line.

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

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

About 44 percent of respondents said their values ​​align most closely with imposing limits that would block hate speech and “preach a form of bigotry.”

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

Another 11 percent said they didn’t know or refused to answer.

Among Conservative supporters, 60 percent said they were more in favor of having no limits on free speech, compared to 64 percent of Liberal voters and 66 percent of NDP supporters who said they felt otherwise.

When asked about the recent rise in hate sentiment, 29 percent of respondents blamed a lack of respect between people, while 20 percent 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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