Democracy Off Balance: Freedom of Expression and Hate Propaganda Law in Canada


384 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8636-5
DDC 323.44'3'0971




Reviewed by Jay Newman

Jay Newman is a professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. His
most recently published works are Biblical Religion and Family Values,
Inauthentic Culture and Its Philosophical Critics, and Religion and


The subject of lawyer Stefan Braun’s book is the conflict in Canada
between freedom of expression and hate propaganda law. Though Braun sees
the ideas of “balance” and “balancing” as pervading his book,
his approach here to a weighty and troubling dilemma is decidedly
unbalanced. Passionately committed to the value of free expression, he
has no confidence whatsoever in “hate censorship” or the people who
promote it. He regards hate propaganda law as a “politically blunt
instrument enlisted in a social cause that will require ever more
refined and flexible responses”; it is a “politically slippery slope
and a double-edged sword,” and its promoters have a view that is
“theoretically deficient, politically self-contradictory, socially
self-defeating, and pragmatically unworkable,” even on their own

Braun grants that the structure of his book is “unconventional.”
When he focuses on specific cases and laws, Braun can be helpful in
reminding us of the dangers of censorship; but far too much of the book
is devoted to tiresome, self-indulgent polemic and the turgid,
undisciplined wielding of sophisticated social-scientific and
philosophical terms and concepts to which the author is unprepared to do
justice. Moreover, all too often Braun is smugly dismissive of the views
of advocates of hate propaganda laws without taking the trouble to
provide detailed critical analysis of their arguments. Braun’s
discussion is most constructive in the last two chapters, in which he
outlines various alternatives to the kind of “hate censorship” he

One may suspect that the copy editor of this university press book was
so intimidated by the author’s zealous commitment to freedom of
expression that she or he refrained from providing the firm counsel that
might have helped the author to make his case in a precise, organized,
focused, and compelling manner. Perhaps Braun often just sounds more
callous than he is, but when he remarks, for example, that
“[v]ictimhood is an inherently subjective, shifting, and
discriminatory ‘identity’ politics,” I am reminded of La
Rochefoucauld’s maxim that we all have strength enough to endure the
misfortunes of others.


Braun, Stefan., “Democracy Off Balance: Freedom of Expression and Hate Propaganda Law in Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024,