We’ve mentioned the Mark Steyn case in the past, but today Rich Lowry posted an update on Real Clear Politics on its progress. For those who haven’t heard, our neighbors to the north have a system of Human Rights Commissions in which you can lodge a complaint against people who say things that you don’t like. You accuse them of hate speech and the government revokes their right to speak. It sounds like a good deal for some. It also sounds Orwellian. And it is. Lowry gives the background to the Steyn case as follows:
Last week, a Human Rights Tribunal in British Columbia considered a complaint brought against journalist Mark Steyn for a piece in the Canadian newsweekly Maclean’s. The excerpt from Steyn’s best-selling book America Alone argued that high Muslim birthrates mean Europeans will feel pressure to reach “an accommodation with their radicalized Islamic compatriots.”
The piece was obviously within respectable journalistic bounds. In fact, combining hilarity and profound social analysis, the article could be considered a sparkling model of the polemical art — not surprisingly, given that Steyn is one of North America’s journalistic gems.
The Canadian Islamic Congress took offense, and brought him before the Human Rights Commission. Lowry continues the story:
The national commission has never found anyone innocent in 31 years. It is set up for classic Alice-in-Wonderland “verdict first, trial later” justice. Canada’s Human Rights Act defines hate speech as speech “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.” The language is so capacious and vague that to be accused is tantamount to being found guilty.
Unlike in defamation law, truth is no defense, and there’s no obligation to prove harm. One of the principal investigators of the Canadian Human Rights Commission was asked in a hearing what value he puts on freedom of speech in his work, and replied, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.” Clearly.
In British Columbia, the Steyn hearing proceeded with all the marsupial ungainliness of a kangaroo court. No one knew what the rules of evidence were. Hilariously, one of the chief complaints against Steyn was that he quoted a Muslim imam in Norway bragging that in Europe “the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes.” If that insect simile is out-of-bounds, the commission should swoop down on Norway and execute an extraordinary rendition of the imam.
The hearing has appropriately exposed the commissions to ridicule — and maybe some hatred and contempt (if that’s allowed). There are calls to strip them of their power to regulate the media. This would limit the damage, even as free speech is endangered elsewhere.
We in America can be thankful for our peculiar ideas about the freedom of speech, but we also need to remember that such freedoms require vigilant protection.