Sunday, March 5, 2017

Karl du Fresne: When the police become mother hens

I shudder when I see someone advocating a hate speech law. So should we all.

Police commissioner Mike Bush didn’t go so far as actually advocating a law prohibiting “hate speech”, however that may be defined, but obviously it was on his mind. In fact he’s talked to the Human Rights Commission about it.

I imagine it would have been a meeting of minds. After all, it’s the nature of bureaucracies to want their powers expanded.

Combine this with the pervasive school of thought in modern government which holds that a feckless society needs paternalistic minders to keep it from getting into trouble, and almost any busybody law becomes possible.

If we were to have speech police, could George Orwell’s Thought Police be far behind?

A hate speech law would mark a radical and dangerous extension of existing police powers: from protecting people and property against clearly identifiable threats, such as assault and theft, to making value judgments about whether a citizen has crossed the blurry line between fair comment and something much darker.  

Such a law would be welcomed by activist minority groups which want the state to protect them from any comment they see as hurtful or oppressive. But freedom of speech is far too precious in a democracy to be undermined by subjective judgments from police officers about what constitutes incitement to “hate” as opposed to a robust expression of legitimate opinion.

Happily, on this occasion both Justice Minister Amy Adams and Police Minister Paula Bennett squashed Bush’s idea.  They rightly pointed out that existing laws are perfectly capable of dealing with public statements likely to incite hostility against, for instance, ethnic or religious minorities. Check out Section 61 of the Human Rights Act, for starters.

Anyway, what was Bush doing raising the matter in the first place? Since when was it the role of the Police Commissioner to suggest new laws that would restrict fundamental liberties such as the right of free speech?

The job of the police is to enforce laws passed by Parliament, not to publicly float their own ideas about what might be necessary for society’s wellbeing. We don’t need activist public servants stepping beyond their remit.

Most New Zealanders would probably prefer Bush to devote his energy to reducing the scandalous burglary rate, or ensuring that the police respond promptly to calls from victims of crime rather than fobbing people off - as happens all too often - by saying they’re busy with other things.

But the commissioner’s action is entirely consistent with the role police have increasingly taken upon themselves, which is that of moral custodians. Already we have seen, in recent years, a marked change in the way the police view their duties.

Traditionally their function was to protect people against lawbreakers and to apprehend criminals. But the modern New Age police take a much broader view of their role. They have morphed into mother hens, constantly clucking about all the things we’re doing wrong. They think we need to be protected against ourselves.

This is most conspicuous in matters relating to alcohol consumption. The police have a legitimate interest in minimising the road toll, but their moralistic crusades against drinking resemble nothing so much as the shrill campaigns of late-19th century prohibitionists who were convinced that liquor would be the ruin of us all.

They need to be reminded that alcohol consumption is not only legal, but for centuries has been the lubricant of social intercourse and celebration.

Of course a small minority of people drink to excess and behave badly, which brings me to the woman who was videoed shouting abuse at a group of Muslims in Huntly recently.

Bush seized this as justification for a discussion about the need for hate crime legislation. But Newstalk ZB talkback host Tim Beveridge got to the heart of the matter when he said the real problem in the Huntly incident wasn’t racism or xenophobia; it was drunkenness.

The question, then, is whether an isolated outburst from a pathetic drunk justifies a senior public servant talking about the need for hate speech laws. Most people would probably think we need a far higher threshold than that.

As for Bush, he has some ground to make up. He got off to an unpromising start in his job, being the cop who delivered a glowing eulogy at the funeral of the detective who framed Arthur Allan Thomas, and his public image hasn’t improved with recent publicity suggesting he was evasive about declaring an old drink-driving conviction.

Perhaps he should pull his head in and concentrate on his core functions.

Karl du Fresne blogs at First published in the Dominion Post.


paul scott said...

My neighbour said I was a piece of Christian white trash, and he hated me.
Well ok, trash and Christian, but hate ?
I said 'You are not allowed to hate me I'm Ngai tahu.'
Him : Ngai Tahu? he said, You don't look Maori.'
Me : Well, you should see my Mother
Him : Is she Ngai Tahu?
Me : No but you should see her.

It is already will recognised that a man is wasting this time attempting Police action upon violence from a woman.
This bad speech rot is a further trajectory downward of distrust in Police .
More traditional policing less libtard garbage is required.

Brian said...

Hate Speech Advocates....Why the Bureaucrats...Do they determine laws and Policy?

.Freedom of speech and thought are a precious part of our existence, any attempt to justify more controls outside the laws Parliament has authorised is an attack on us all.

I agree with Karl, the very idea of “hate Speech” conjures up visions of Hitler and even more so of the Communistic regions of the Soviets, China, and Zimbabwe, of many African and Islamic States, not to mention the threat of present day North Korea.

Just where is the boundary between so-called hate speech, criticism, or disagreement? Actually it is anyone’s guess, and really a question of interpretation! A good deal of this comes from a racial/ethnic basis, principally to gain emotive power in the media. Also it is, or can be politically motivated, as we have seen so clearly after the United States recent election.

Somewhere along the way we have, probably for financial reasons, forgotten that the original Law of Libel can protect and defend an individual from slander; so why can it not extend it to this so-called hate speech?

As we have seen with Susan Devoy’s outbursts against what she calls racist’s remarks and observations, we cannot expect any fair or unbiased judgement from that quarter. Especially now from our present administration, and other political parties, all of them firmly entrenched in the coming Election. Who would want to rock the apple cart?

If our Police Commissioner is so concerned about a hate-speech law and police response, I would suggest that in view of the number of cases that the Police have failed to convict on a mere technicality. It would be more advantageous that they first reviewed the quality of their legal advice in the prosecution of these cases; before venturing further into more insoluble ones.

Anonymous said...

Well said Brian. Sometimes it feels like there is an agenda from our current Government to deliberately create division between the young and the older generation. Do they honestly think that their traditional base is secure? Do they honestly think that the young are so dumb that they will not learn about all the promises that came to nothing as the Super plan will. The rise of activism in churning out the racism blame game should be obvious to everyone.

Coker said...

Too many segments of the police seem determined to stamp out anything they personally disapprove of. This from the cricket at Dunedin yesterday:

"(Senior Sergeant Trevor Thomson) warned fans not to drink to excess, and to mind their language.

"They were swearing at players, each other, other people and there are kids around."

While supporter chants to players like Otago's Neil Wagner 'Neil is a Wagner' were okay, *swearing would not be tolerated*, he said."


Anonymous said...

Great article - saying it like it is. Their job is to catch the thieves, burglars, rapists, druggies, etc., not to do 'soft' speeding and traffic offences fines to line the coffers of the government OR to suggest laws that will lead to NZ becoming a dictatorship.