Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Hateful and the Obscene: Studies in the Limits of Free Expression

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Hateful and the Obscene: Studies in the Limits of Free Expression

Article excerpt

L.W. Sumner, The Hateful and the Obscene: Studies in the Limits of Free Expression (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004) ix + 275pp. Cloth. $60.00. ISBN 0-8020- 4239-2. Paper. $29.95. ISBN 0-8020-8303-9.

It is not often that a new study encompassing both obscenity and hate law is published, and any new addition is always welcome for those of us working in this field. Of interest in this work is that Sumner is not a lawyer but a philosopher, and he therefore offers us an investigation into the hateful and the obscene from a grounded philosophical perspective. The focus on Canada is most timely given the significant and contemporary body of Canadian jurisprudence in this area, and some of the extreme issues raised in this field, such as child pornography. As the text is a series of studies in the limits of free expression, the chapters are capable of being read alone, but the book goes further than offering a series of fragmented snapshots - Sumner aims at a considered thesis on the limits of freedom of expression culminating in proposals for legal change. Indeed, this reviewer felt that the book made more sense read as a whole (although the notes being at the end rather than footnotes was at times distracting).

Sumner is interested in finding a philosophical basis for the limits of free expression, and considering how far contemporary legal frameworks limiting the freedom of expression are consistent with philosophical principles. He suggests that it makes sense to use a considered philosophical framework of rights and freedoms to inform legal decisions, and attempts to develop such a framework to deal with, in particular, the challenges posed by pornography and hate speech. The first chapter includes an explanation of rights, which are surprisingly complex and therefore worthwhile discussing in some depth, followed by a chapter outlining J. …

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