Tuesday, October 7, 2008

CHRONICLE HERALD: Human rights: Pick a ruling, any ruling?

Human rights: Pick a ruling, any ruling?

By PAUL SCHNEIDEREIT
Tue. Oct 7 - 4:46 AM

 

WAS Mark Steyn’s October 2006 article in Maclean’s magazine, entitled "The Future Belongs to Islam," hateful towards Muslims?

Three different Canadian human rights commissions give three different answers: No; technically no, but basically yes; and maybe.

If you find that less than reassuring, you’re not alone.

Last year, the Canadian Islamic Congress backed three essentially identical complaints before the Canadian Human Rights Commission and its counterparts in Ontario and B.C., complaining the Maclean’s published excerpt from the syndicated columnist’s best-selling book America Alone had exposed Muslims to hatred and contempt.

What did Steyn write? In a nutshell, he argued the spiralling costs of the modern social democratic state, Western "civilizational exhaustion" and the tale of two birth rates – that of Muslim populations, particularly in Europe, rising and that of the "native" stock, people established in many Western nations for generations, falling – were leading to a West which more and more would embrace Islamic societal institutions like sharia law.

As I’ve said before, think what you will of Steyn’s argument. That’s not the point. The question is: Does Steyn have a right to write his opinion? And does Maclean’s have the right to print it?

In a country that enshrines freedom of expression and freedom of the press in its Constitution, you’d hope so. But given the creeping censorship in decisions of government-appointed human rights bodies in recent years, and the eagerness of "offended" groups to use these agencies to silence those they disagree with, the answers have been less than clear.

So what happened with the complaints against Maclean’s and Steyn? In April, the Ontario Human Rights Commission reluctantly dismissed the complaint on a technicality. Under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, the provincial human rights czar lacked jurisdiction over what Maclean’s printed.

That didn’t stop it, however, from essentially declaring Maclean’s guilty anyway. An excerpt from its announcement: "This type of media coverage has been identified as contributing to Islamophobia and promoting societal intolerance towards Muslim, Arab and South Asian Canadians." Amazingly, the Ontario commission was able – without benefit of hearings, where presumably Maclean’s could defend itself – to find Steyn’s article "promotes prejudice towards Muslims."

In June, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal – operating under broader legislative powers – convened to hear the same complaint, having declined to dismiss it earlier. For a week, Maclean’s lawyers found themselves attempting to defend the magazine against a bizarre array of poorly founded accusations, discussions of bad "impressions" and hurt "feelings" and other forms of subjective "evidence." Journalist Andrew Coyne live-blogged the hearings for Maclean’s for the week. To get a sense of how unbelievable the proceedings actually were, check out the circus at blog.macleans.ca/tag/hrt-live/.

No decision yet from the B.C. human rights poobahs.

Later in June, the Canadian Human Rights Commission announced it was dismissing its identical complaint against Maclean’s by the Canadian Islamic Congress. The reason? Based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s test for hateful speech, as defined in the 1990 Taylor decision, the commission found Steyn’s article was not "of an extreme nature." That means no hearings at all.

Whew. That’s a relief. I wonder if anyone told the Ontario and B.C. human rights folks?(For those wondering, in August, the Alberta Human Rights Commission dismissed a complaint against former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant for publishing the Danish cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad several years ago.)

Forgive me if I sound facetious. Three government-appointed human rights bodies presented with the same complaint. Three different reactions. Not exactly reassuring for those who argue complainants have been using these commissions, with their sometimes enthusiastic co-operation, to squelch free speech and force others to question whether exercising their freedom of expression is worth the hassle – and potential expense – of getting caught up in the gears of the Canadian humans rights bureaucratic machine.

 

Article at:  http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/1083299.html