Wristbands Are In Effect: The "Keep A Breast" Campaign

My daughter is an engaged and informed teen. She reads the news and we discuss controversial issues as a family. She speaks out against injustice and lends her support to marginalized groups. Recently, she showed her support when she and a group of friends attended the gay pride parade. It was a positive experience from which she learned that tolerance and diversity are essential values to a healthy and vibrant community. In short, she is a good citizen.

The other day, after a trip to the nearby shopping mall, she came home flushed with excitement. She had "purchased," using her own money, three silicone "message" wristbands in support of breast cancer. As she proudly displayed the colourful wristbands, she read them out: "I Love Boobies," two of them said; "Check Yourself (Keep A Breast), the other said. To me this was clever messaging in a teen-friendly package. As they "say" Facebook, I "like" it and give it a "thumbs up."

Photo on 2011-10-17 at 18.32.jpg

On the weekend, I read, in the newspaper, about parents in British Columbia who don't like it. They find the wristbands offensive and distracting. So much so, the local school banned them. I did what any instructor of human rights would do, I cut out the article for my class.

Today in class, we discussed our fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Charter, specifically the right under s.2(b) as:

the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication

The discussion ran through many controversial examples of expression such as public nudity, burlesque dancing, t-shirts depicting violence against women, and even irreligious album covers. The discussion around these issues was often heated and divisive, but then we discussed the wristbands. In this discussion, everyone was in accord with each other: the wristbands are not offensive as they express an important public health message. The message was a cause to support, not to banish.

In a similar case, the United States District Court agreed. According to Madame Justice Mclaughlin, the school imposed ban of the wristbands was found to be an unconstitutional violation of the students' First Amendment rights.

What would happen here in Canada? Considering the Supreme Court of Canada's broad and expansive reading of freedom of expression, there is no doubt the wristbands would be protected expression. Whether or not the code of conduct limiting this expression, would survive s.1 reasonable limit scrutiny requires a more nuanced analysis. I am inclined to believe this prohibiton would not survive Charter scrutiny. A school code with such broadly based prohibitions would not minimally impair a student's right to express themselves. 

In the end, the choice is a personal one. To me, however, the choice is clear: I Love Boobies!

Update

on 2011-10-19 17:02 by Lisa A. Silver

Consider this: The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council okays Buchcherry's song entitled Crazy Bitch as it is "not abusive" but "I Love (heart symbol) Boobies" breast cancer wristbands are banned and branded offensive. Go figure?