Nothing livens up a first-year Constitution class like your professor's name plastered on the front page of every major newspaper in Canada.
Windsor Law professor Richard Moon never asked to be at the center of a nationally publicized controversy, but that is exactly what happened when the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) asked Moon to write a report last year on the regulation of hate speech on the Internet.
For 20 years, Moon has taught Constitutional Law courses at Windsor Law in his areas of expertise: Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Religion. The author of The Constitutional Protection of Freedom of Expression and several chapters in Canadian Constitutional Law, Moon was a natural choice when the CHRC was looking for an unbiased expert to review section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA).
Section 13 of the CHRA allows for Canadian citizens to issue a complaint to the CHRC regarding speech — including Internet postings — that exposes an identifiable group (racial or ethnic minorities, homosexuals, religious groups, etc.) to hatred or contempt.
In 2007, Section 13 became a hot topic when Maclean’s magazine received a hate speech complaint regarding a controversial column published on its website. Even though the CHRC eventually dismissed the complaint, conservative bloggers railed against what they saw as a blatant infringement on the right to Freedom of Expression, online or otherwise.
When Professor Moon was asked to review the constitutionality of Section 13, the conservative blogosphere expected him to be a patsy for the CHRC. Instead, after careful scholarly deliberation over the course of months, Moon recommended that Section 13 be repealed entirely. Suddenly, Moon was an unlikely hero of the far right.
In reality, Moon's report was anything but politically motivated. His recommendation to repeal Section 13 was based on the fact that Canada already had anti-hate speech laws in its Criminal Code that punished particularly violent and inflammatory speech. And since the CHRC only pursued complaints involving similarly inflammatory speech, then there was really no need for a second law that had the unintentional potential to censor unpopular, but unthreatening speech.
Moon regularly has his upper-level students run mock trials involving hot-button Freedom of Expression issues like the Danish cartoons. But the award-winning teacher — including the 2009 Alumni Award for Distinguished Contributions to University Teaching presented by the University of Windsor Alumni Association — never expected to be a central character.
After a year of appearing on news programs and talk radio discussions, Moon was recognized with a Faculty Special Recognition Award for another kind of celebrity: the positive attention he drew to the high level of legal scholarship at Windsor Law.
Find out more about Professor Moon and his research at his faculty website.