The Corner

Re: Supremacist Courts

Mark — If the Canadian Supreme Court is happy to indulge the prosecution of those whose speech apparently “opposes the targeted group’s ability to find self-fulfillment,” then I wonder if it wouldn’t also be happy to bring back Spectral Evidence, which William Stoughton allowed into his courtroom with such famous success at the Salem Witch Trials. After all, if we’re going to privilege the testimony of some by allowing them to explain how badly they are hurt by the words of others — a subjective judgement if I ever saw one — then why not allow them to testify that they can see evil spirits that nobody else can, to claim that these spirits are ruining their lives, and to build a case against their fellow citizens on those grounds?

If you are tempted to answer that the difference between Salem and Canada is that evil spirits do not exist and thus nobody can be afflicted by them, whereas the never-defined “offense” does, then I would refer you to the other bombshell phrase that the Canadian court threw out last week: “truth may be used for widely disparate ends.” In other words: The truth is relative and cannot be used as a defense. Who are you to tell me that I can’t see a devil, or that my neighbor has not sent it to undermine my self-fulfillment? Who are you to tell me that I can be mortally offended by the phrases on your list but not by those that don’t make the grade? Two cheers for Cotton Mather, who contended stupidly that spectral evidence should be admitted at Salem but saw fit simultaneously to argue that the defendants should not be convicted on the basis of it alone because the Devil might choose to take the shape of an innocent. That idea, that the unprovable testimony of an individual might not be entirely reliable, is inherently vague, and should not be considered by a court ostensibly concerned with objectivity, is more than the Canadian Supreme Court has allowed. Crush me with stones if I’m wrong.


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