Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended freedom of speech Friday, saying it was « not without limits » and should not « arbitrarily and unnecessarily hurt » certain communities. In Switzerland on the same day, a motion proposing the abolition of the crime of blasphemy was defeated by the National Council.
« We will always defend freedom of expression, » Trudeau said in response to a question about the right to caricature the Prophet Mohammed, as Charlie Hebdo magazine did.
« But freedom of speech is not without limits, » he told a news conference. « We must act with respect for others and seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily harm those with whom we share a society and a planet.
« We don’t have the right, for example, to shout fire in a crowded movie theater, there are always limits, » argued the head of government. Distancing himself from the position of French President Emmanuel Macron, Trudeau pleaded for a cautious use of freedom of expression.
« In a pluralistic, diverse and respectful society such as ours, we must be aware of the impact of our words and actions on others, especially those communities and populations that still experience a great deal of discrimination, » he argued.
On Thursday, the Canadian Parliament observed a minute of silence in honour of the three people murdered that morning by a man who was apprehended with a knife in a church in Nice, in the south of France.
The attacks came against a backdrop of anger in the Middle East against France and President Emmanuel Macron, vilified for defending the right to publish cartoons in France. « We will not give up cartoons, » Macron said at last week’s tribute to Samuel Paty, a teacher beheaded in the street in an attack for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on freedom of expression.
Like Canada, Switzerland is opposed to the French interpretation of freedom of expression without conditions. On Friday, October 30, the National Council rejected by 115 votes to 48 a motion to abolish the crime of blasphemy, reports the Swiss media RTS Info. Freedom of expression « does not apply without limits, » Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter said.
« People should not be punished because they make fun of a faith, » said Beat Flach, the author of the motion. We must give a clear and strong signal in favor of freedom of expression, » the politician hammered, as the debate on the cartoons has just resurfaced in France.
But for the Federal Council, the protection of freedom of expression emanates from the expression of freedom of conscience and belief, which is explicitly guaranteed by the federal constitution. Article 261 of the Swiss Penal Code not only protects the peaceful « living together » of all religions, but also the right to respect for religious beliefs, the media points out.
Thus, the law does not directly punish words that offend the deity, but rather the act of « flouting the convictions of others in matters of belief, in particular belief in God.