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Free speech or hate speech? Both sides of the debate sparked by the appearance of alt-right Canadian speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux

The visit of controversial alt-right Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux has sparked fiery debate and protests.

For many, their views amount to hate speech which reinforces dangerous racist views.

But for others, they're champions of free speech, agitators for open discussion and debate.

TVNZ1’s SUNDAY explored the blurry line between free speech and hate speech, after the pair’s trip to New Zealand saw hundreds protest their visit.

Sociologist Paul Spoonley says the pair represents a rising tide of resentment.

He considers Ms Southern at the “polite” end of the alt-right spectrum.

Youth worker Elliot Ikilei is a fan of the alt-right pair and said the topics Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux talk about “are incredibly important for our society in this day and age”. 

“Free speech is incredibly important in this country. We need to be able to have the ability to bring out issues and problems that we see going on in society,” he said.

However, community leader Fatumatu Bah says Ms Southern and Mr Molyneux have no place in New Zealand.

“I like to think that we've kind of surpassed that time you know where we believed that one race is better and above all… And I think that's fundamentally the message that these individuals are bringing.”

Ms Southern says the statement “it’s OK to be white” should not be seen as provocative or daring.

“It doesn’t matter what happened historically to say that it is ok that I have been born with the skin colour,” she said.

Their views will repulse many people, and resonate with others.

Ms Bah says there is a way to have a discussion about hate speech and free speech, however, she says the way they are “currently doing it is not acceptable”.

She says differences should be embraced, not used to create division.

“Diversity of thought… doesn't come without diversity in religion, in culture, and in the values that we hold.”

Canadian far-right commentators Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux have brought their controversial message to our doorstep and sparked a debate about what’s free speech and what’s hate speech. Source: Sunday