I wrote a few days ago that purveyors of extreme views should be judged by their words, rather than be squelched by repressive acts of censorship. “Distasteful words are best fought by reason, not repression,” I wrote.
My reference was to a book by Ross Thatcher, Final Appeal, in which he argues he’s innocent of the killing of his ex-wife, JoAnn Wilson. The Saskatchwan government, I believe, will be guilty of interference in his civil rights if it uses a new law to strip him of income from sale of the book.
With that background, I’m pleased with the report that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has found that the Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That’s because the Charter guarantees Canadians’ rights to “the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.”
Section 13 undid all that, so it’s to be hoped that the Tribunal’s decision will be taken as precedent by the courts.
The National Post has a full report here. I find it interesting that almost a day later, there’s been no mention of the decision on the web sites of either the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star.
The news is cheering to right wing bloggers such as Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant.
Levant, more than any other commentator, has crusaded against Canada’s hate laws ever since being hammered by the Human Rights Commission for publishing the Danish cartoons about Mohammed in the magazine he used to publish.
Levant describes his ordeal in Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights (McClelland and Stewart).
I don’t count myself among these right wing zealots. But I do agree with them that Human Rights Commissions have gone far beyond their origjnal purpose. They need to be curbed of their reckless attacks on free speech.
It’s worth remembering that the Human Rights commissions came into being to protect individuals against discrimination in employment and housing. That’s a worthwhile purpose. From there to censoring freedom of expression is a long ride down the proverbial slippery slope.
In the 1960s, the Act was extended to combat racist telephone hotlines. In 2001, the entire Internet was dumped into their domain. The result is that every blogger, including this one, writes at the risk of being penalized by these outfits.
There’s a familiar pattern among the special interest pleaders who want new laws to deal with old problems. Pornography crusaders are never sastisfied that obscenity is illegal under the Criminal Code. They want more and stiffer laws.
So it is with those who would slap hate embargoes on purveyors of unconventional views. These laws are particularly popular with extremist religious factions, such as the fundamentalist Muslims who organized riots to protest the freedom of expression of the Danish paper that first published the famous cartoons.
The repeal of Section 13 was recommended last year in an independent review conducted by University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon. The Liberal MP, Keith Martin, has urged the scrapping of the section.
Perhaps now that the Human Rights Tribunal itself has spoken out, we may soon see the last days of this invidious legislation.
I have been watching, with a mixture of bewilderment and bother, the apparently endless attempts to erode free speech rights in Canada.
The most spectacular recent examples involve those twins of far right views (about as far removed from my political compass as one could conceive), Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant.
Notwithstanding the fact that both have won their cases, the very idea that both had to defend, at considerable cost, their right to express their views strikes at the roots of Canada’s Charter of Rights.
Levant, you’ll remember, was called on the carpet for reprinting the harmless and somewhat juvenile cartoons of Mohammed in his Western Standard magazine; Steyn incurred the wrath of Canada’s Muslim establishment for his assertion, reprinted in Maclean’s magazine, that the United States stands alone as the sole defender of the West agtainst Islamic extremism.
All this reminds me of my own run-in with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Two small neighborhood convenience stores were hit with a decree that they were creating a “hostile environment” for shoppers by selling adult magazines like Playboy and Penthouse.
The two women who made the complaint enjoyed the unlimited financial and moral support of the Ontario government. The store owners were in no position to fight back. In their defense, I called in a coalition of magazine distributors who ended up putting $50,000 into a legal defense fund.
The case went to a three-person tribunal of well-paid adjudicators who held extensive (and expensive) hearings before concurring with our submission that the complaints were baseless.
If the business group had not been willing to support these small stores, I have no doubt they would have been pilloried by their accusers. Every mom-and-pop store could have found itself at risk for selling magazines that met every letter of the law.
In reflecting on this, I thought of the wonderful contribution of Alan Borovoy over the past forty years in his leadership of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Now retired, he fought tireless battles over capital punishment, religious instruction in the schools, hate speech, obscenity laws, terrorism, and the War Measures Act.
Borovoy remained steadfast in his opposition to hate speech laws. His stance cost him many friends in the Jewish community.
The struggle goes on. There has never been an adequate explanation for the way the Harper government barred British MP George Galloway from entering Canada. It’s clear he was kept out because of his views on the war in Afghanistan and his alleged support for Hamas, the democratically elected government of Palestine.
Agree or disagree with Galloway, his views deserve testing in the court of public opinion, not in the shrouded back rooms of the bureaucracy.
New examples come up almost every day. B’nai Brith has demanded that Toronto Mayor David Miller stop the performance of the play, Seven Jewish Children, at a theatre the city bailed out a few years ago. The idea of asking a mayor to act as a censor in Canada is truly mind-boggling.
The willingness of Canadian courts to impose publication bans on evidence at criminal trials is equally troubling. Other than to protect the identity of a juvenile, I see no justification in restricting in any way, shape or form the reporting of what goes on in our courts.
Our entire system of justice is built on public disclosure of court proceedings. This is the only assurance we have against secret arrests, trials and imprisonment. How much, for example, would we know of the RCMP’s misbehavior in the Dzienkaski case without disclosure of the video showing how this poor man was assaulted?
The one small glimmer of hope I’ve been able to find is that Canada has opposed a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council that would make “defamation of religion” a human rights violation. Look out, Christopher Hitchins, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins!This week, an association of Canadian journalists marked the annual World Press Freedom Day. Alan Borovoy reminds us that the greatest threat to freedom of expression in Canada is not government edicts, but public apathy.
Our Human Rights Commissions were established to deal primarily with discrimination in employment and housing. It is time they returned to these duties. It is time to dump the whole panoply of hate speech laws and all those invidious devices that allow repression of the vigorous debate that is the mark of true democracy.
Oh Canada, stand on guard!
Mark Steyn “columnist to the world” thinks it “odd” that Canada has so far escaped the brunt of the global recession.
In an interview Mark gave to blogger Hugh Hewitt, he says:
“ I think this is clearly not about cranking up the global economy and getting it functioning again. America is taking a hit on this. There’s a lot of other countries, beginning with Iceland, that are being hit far harder and far faster. And there’s some countries for whom the pain is relatively small like Canada, oddly enough.”
Let me tell you why this is so, Mark.
First, Canada has not engaged in wild military adventures that have drained our resources — although we’ve come close to it in Afghanistan.
Second, after a bit of a slow start, we’ve regulated our mortgage companies so that they can’t set up “no down payment” suckers for later foreclosures when high interest rates click in.
Third, we worked carefully to bring Canada out of deficit under Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien.
Nothing “odd” about all of this. Just good Canadian common sense.
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