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What is the Purpose of Freedom of Expression?

Posted: 7 Apr 2010  

Jacob Weinrib

Queen's University

Date Written: December 1, 2009


Since freedom of expression is a Charter right, its purpose (or purposes) must be understood in relation to the broader values of the Charter. This note considers whether the traditionally articulated purposes of freedom of expression actually cohere with the values of the Charter framework in which the right of freedom of expression arises. The Supreme Court of Canada conceives of freedom of expression as (1) an instrument for the realization of truth; (2) an instrument of democratic self-government; and (3) an aspect of self-realization or human dignity. The author finds that, of the purposes traditionally understood to underlie freedom of expression, only the dignity of persons relates the broader values of the Charter framework to the realm of expressive activity. The author formulates a dignity-based conception of freedom of expression, defends it from objections, presents its doctrinal implications, and applies it to a recent controversy between Maclean’s and the Canadian Islamic Congress.

Keywords: Freedom of expression, hate speech, dignity, truth, democracy

Suggested Citation

Weinrib, Jacob, What is the Purpose of Freedom of Expression? (December 1, 2009). University of Toronto Faculty of Law Review, Vol. 67, No. 1, 2009. Available at SSRN:

Jacob Weinrib (Contact Author)

Queen's University ( email )

Mac-Corry Hall
Room 529
Kingston, Ontario K7L3N6
6472378471 (Phone)

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