Our freedom of expression

“The following piece contains explicit material. Viewer discretion is advised.” Unfortunately, I was afforded no such warning when I strolled into the CCIT building last week. Hurrying to print an overdue essay, I barely looked up in time to notice the CCIT Video Wall. I was entirely unprepared for the gigantic depiction of a semi-nude male, bent over on his hands and knees, looking over one shoulder at me with his pants lowered past his rear end. The offensive sight arrested my eyes and the image was then burned into my memory. I felt repulsed and disorientated in the few seconds that followed.

While many may justify, and even laud, this display on the basis of freedom of expression, I, amongst others, feel that it is an infringement on our sense of security. I use the term security here to signify our basic Canadian legal and human right to be safeguarded from acts of indecency, as opposed to its antonym insecurity which could denote a twisted puritanical or antisexualist connotation.

From a fundamental ethical precedent, such an exhibit forms the precipice of a dangerous slippery slope. It opens the door for a potential slew of offensive and distasteful elements on campus. If the artist chose to do that very scene as a form of live art, would it be equally acceptable for the Blackwood Gallery to host a seminude person posing on their hands and knees in one of the busiest buildings on campus? Where is the line drawn?

Furthermore, what is the threshold of offensive nudity? From a legal standpoint which seeks to codify the minimums and maximums of offense: the fact that the nuances of offensive nudity are overtly detailed in two sections of the Canadian Criminal Code points to a defined threshold within Canadian society that is beyond moral relativism. Displaying a piece that has an element of nudity in it is then treading dangerous ground, certainly bound to offend others.

For although the suggestive exhibition of a bare bottom does not constitute a violation to Section 173.2 or 174 of the Criminal Code, the fact that it lacks any form of warning certainly goes against the Canadian Association of Broadcasting Code of Ethics, if not Canadian legal ethics in general. According to the code, anything that comprises mature or offensive subject matter, nudity, sexually explicit material, or crude or offensive language, must be preceded by a viewer advisory. Not only is the viewer ensured this, but they are also given the choice of keeping that channel on. But of course, the CCIT Video Wall is not a television, and can not be controlled with a click of a button.

We would not be self-respecting, intelligent Canadians, if we did not voice our contentions with dangerous absolutes like that of freedom of expression. If we adamantly uphold the freedom rights and ethical standards of Canadian society, it is just as much our duty to be passionately protective over those same standards so as not to exploit them. After all, no one likes a double-standard.

I will not submit to a false conditioning that asks me to disregard my freedom of conscience. My spontaneous reaction demonstrated an automatic and reflexive aversion to the display; as did a significant population of the student body consider the display to be offensive. Moreover, if Campus Police amassed numerous complaints from students, then I ask of a prestigious Canadian university like UTM to uphold the sanctity of ethical judgement and of our sense of security when displaying pieces on the CCIT Video Wall. I would like the choice of observing an explicit piece or not, to be left to us: so that we can practice our freedom of expression.

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