Protect us from human rights commissions
By PAUL SCHNEIDEREIT
WATCH OUT for the thought police, better known as
Saying or publishing material that "offends" somebody – even if it does not remotely meet the legal standard of libel/slander or hate speech – can still land you in front of one of these government-created tribunals, forced to defend yourself, at your expense, in a legal twilight zone where normal judicial rules of evidence don’t apply.
Think I’m being alarmist? Two cases before Canadian human rights commissions right now should be triggering flashing red lights and alarm bells from Signal Hill to
Two years ago, media outlets around the world agonized over whether to publish the controversial Danish cartoons, a dozen images depicting the Islamic prophet
Freedom to criticize even religion has a long tradition in the West (just think of the urine-covered crucifix held up as "art" some years back), as does editorial cartooning, which regularly, and at times viciously, lampoons public figures and causes. Though controversial, the cartoons broke no laws (in fact, by editorial cartooning standards, most were benign).
No matter. Syed Soharwardy, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, complained to the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Chillingly, it agreed to hear the case, meaning that, though Levant broke no law, his Charter-guaranteed right to freedom of speech was, according to the Alberta body, apparently conditional.
The other case where Big Brother, in the form of our human "rights" commissions, has now decided to sit in judgment on the boundaries of freedom of speech, concerns columnist
Now, you’re free to agree or disagree with Steyn, but no one is saying – and certainly no law enforcement agency has indicated it thinks – that there is anything illegal about Steyn’s book. There’s nothing libellous about it, it isn’t hate speech and it breaks no other Criminal Code restrictions. Yes, it’s controversial and much debated, but again, isn’t that the point?
Not according to four law students at Osgoode Hall, who filed complaints, backed by the Canadian Islamic Congress, with the federal, B.C. and Ontario human rights commissions, alleging Steyn and
The implications are enormous. Based on the actions of human rights commissions in this country, anyone who feels slighted by what they read or hear is free to go to one of these august bodies and complain. The threshold is not whether any law was broken – such complaints would never make it inside a real courtroom – but whether the complainant’s "right" not to be offended – by, to be sure, sometimes edgy material – was transgressed.
There is no cost to the complainant, for if a commission takes a case, its lawyers act on its behalf at state expense. No such luck for those who’ve had the temerity to say something controversial. If they want a lawyer, it’s on their dime.
Human rights bodies need to be reined in, hard and soon, and told to stop trampling on one of the most basic rights of all – free speech.