In Canada, freedom of speech is protected as a “fundamental freedom” through Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
But “Restrictions on freedom of expression come in many forms including Criminal Code and Human Rights provisions limiting hate speech, municipal by-laws that regulate signage or where protests may take place, civil defamation (libel) actions, and restrictions placed on press freedoms.” (ccla.org)
Additionally, it should be noted that the Charter sets out rights and freedoms and guarantees broad equality to citizens as it relates to government action. It applies to all levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal, but not private enterprises. Therefore, “free speech” isn’t applicable to private companies. Meaning that if you’re working for a private company, you can’t use “free speech” as a defence to say whatever you want.
With that said, it can get a little more complex based on your type of employment. Do you work for one of the levels of government? A union? Private enterprise? Do they have a guideline? Training? All of these things factor into dismissals (when they happen) if it goes to court. There are a number of cases here in Canada where people have been terminated for things they’ve posted online; some have been reinstated, while others have had their terminations ‘stayed’ – it isn’t black and white and depends on the details of the situations.
One of the more famous cases involved two firemen in Toronto who were fired for tweets that breached the City’s social media policy. Despite being terminated for the same violations, the investigation discovered the following:
Justine Sacco was a senior communications professional in a well-respected company. She made what she thought was an innocent, funny joke. It wasn’t. [Read about how one tweet can completely destroy your career here]
In reality, people are more sensitive to comments – even if they’re just made in jest. If you’ve made a comment and then have time to think about it and decide it’s inappropriate, it’s totally okay to delete it. With that said, be prepared for someone to come forward with a screenshot.
Donald Trump tweeted this bizarre and inappropriate tweet, then quickly deleted it. In fact, the website Politwoops used to track deleted tweets by politicians. They aren’t allowed to do that anymore because Twitter decided that it was a violation of users rights to control their own tweets. Anyway, the point is that even though Trump pulled the tweet offline in great haste, someone snapped that screenshot just as fast.
Before you hit send, here are some things to consider:
Are you adding value? Social media is a way to express yourself; your opinions and your opinions. It’s an opportunity to engage in thoughtful and respectful debate; before engaging online think about whether you’re adding value to the conversation. Value is adding a different perspective; value is not slinging defamatory insults.
Don’t Make It Personal. Like you, I’m human too and I can also be reactive. I have to work hard to resist the urge to comment on some news articles. When you only comment on fact and not emotion, you’ll see that people on either side of an argument are more willing to debate respectfully.
Understand Free Speech. Ultimately, no one has the right to post whatever they want, without consequences. Freedom of Speech in the Charter and the Constitution have limitations.Not sure if what you’re about to post is OK or not? Do the headline test. Consider how you would feel if your comments made headlines across the country and you came under scrutiny. Are you prepared to defend them? If not, don’t post it.
Defamation still exists online. Whether you make a defamatory comment online or offline, you can still be held responsible. This can come at a financial cost (e.g.: woman who had to pay a $65,000 fine for defamatory comment.) And there’s the obvious consequence of potentially losing your job if your employer gets dragged into comments you post online.
Think, before you think before you post. We’ve all been caught up in the ‘heat-of-the-moment’ – hello, we just went through one of the longest, most intense election campaigns in our history as Canadians! We probably saw a different side of friends and colleagues that we’ve never seen before. While it’s encouraged to voice your opinions, you still need to be cautious.