Tuesday, October 21, 2008

CALGARY HERALD: Canadians are a censored people

Canadians are a censored people


Calgary Herald

Monday, October 20, 2008


For Maclean's magazine and author Mark Steyn, last week's not-guilty finding by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is no doubt a welcome respite from writing cheques to their legal defence team.

However, it is hardly a victory for free speech, or press freedom. All that happened was a government agency, after much deliberation, found their work acceptable.

That is the role of a censor, and Canada has one for each province, territory and Ottawa. All are endowed by their legislatures with the right to examine what appears in print, to see whether it is "likely" to "expose" various people and groups to "hatred or contempt."

Steyn's case arose from complaints by Muslim advocates to commissions in Ontario, B.C. and the Canadian Human Rights Commission itself, about an extract from his book America Alone, reprinted in Maclean's.

In it, Steyn speculated what large-scale Muslim settlement in Europe might mean for law and society there. The Canadian Islamic Congress complained the article was likely to expose Muslims to hatred or contempt.

In the end, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal disagreed. However, it also pontificated that Steyn's piece contained historical, religious and factual inaccuracies, relied on common Muslim stereotypes and tried to "rally public opinion by exaggeration and causing the reader to fear Muslims."

So there. An arm of government has judged a publisher, slandered its professionalism, questioned its motives, but concluded it was not quite so bad Canadians shouldn't read it.

For the record, it was not Mark Steyn who caused readers to fear Muslims. It was Muslims who tried twice to blow up the World Trade Center, the second time with horrifying success.

However, leaving aside the tribunal's own historical and factual inaccuracies, Canadians wishing to employ their free-speech rights will find no relief in the acquittal of Steyn and Maclean's by their three oppressors, unless they are as well funded and have similar prestige. The files are full of convictions of people who, lacking both, were chewed up by these commissions as warnings to other free-speaking Canadians.

In supposedly free societies, government has no business having an opinion on whether a book is true, false or has merit.

If it is hateful, there is the Canadian Criminal Code. Otherwise, Canadians do not, and should not, need government approval of their words.

This acquittal changes nothing: The chill remains, and the fight for reform goes on.




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