By Kathy English, for the Toronto Star
Just as opinion columnists have wide latitude to express views that some readers may find offensive, so too do editorial cartoonists have considerable freedom to offend.
Freedom of expression can be a messy business and that important principle that as someone who believes passionately in freedom of expression, I might not agree with what you have to say, or the manner in which you express it, but I must defend your right to express it, can sometimes be uncomfortable.
And so, in this column, I sit uncomfortably on a fence: my personal views on one side, my professional role on the other.
The subject: Star editorial cartoonist Theo Moudakis’s Feb. 14 cartoon, “Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Cards.” Among the four Valentines that Moudakis drew was an image of Jian Ghomeshi squeezing his infamous teddy bear, “Big Ears Teddy,” around the neck with the words “You get me all choked up!” emblazoned on the card.
This came two days after Ghomeshi’s highly publicized, much commented-on trial for charges of sexual assault and choking in which three women testified that the former CBC radio host had punched, slapped and choked them more than a decade ago.
Moudakis’ mash-up of Valentine’s Day and the Ghomeshi trial put the Internet outrage machine into high gear with the Star, the cartoonist and my office receiving messages from dozens of people on social media throughout Sunday and into Monday’s Family Day holiday.
On one side were those who found the cartoon to be “completely inappropriate,” believing the cartoonist was making “rape jokes” and trivializing sexual assault. Many made clear the view that “It’s never okay to joke about sexual assault” and urged me to “do something to have this editorial cartoon taken down.”
On the other side were those who said they laughed out loud, loved the cartoon’s “dark humour,” and regarded it as a “classic.” This camp urged me to resist calls to remove the cartoon from the Star’s website, citing the importance of freedom of expression.