Thursday, September 3, 2009

CALGARY HERALD: Free speech at long last!

Free speech at long last!

Calgary Herald

September 3, 2009

I t was a victory for liberty, a mortal blow to censorship in this country, and vindication for dozens of victims of Canada's system of kangaroo courts, otherwise known as human rights commissions.

On Wednesday, a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled Canada's administrative hate-speech law--Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act --was as unconstitutional as its critics had always claimed. The Canadian Human Rights Commission was no longer the "remedial, preventive and conciliatory" institution it was set up to be, wrote tribunalist Athanasios D. Hadjis, but had become "aggressive," and "penal in nature," with the power to levy crippling fines -- as much as $30,000.

Therefore, he concluded in the case against webmaster Marc Lemire, Section 13 was inconsistent with the free-speech guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It was a complete rout of Canada's most repellent purveyors of political correctness, and from an unlikely source --a member of the tribunal appointed not by the Tories, but by Liberals in the Jean Chretien days.

Lemire is an equally unlikely and unsavoury poster boy for free speech. His website was a virtual home for knuckle-draggers given to venting about an equal-opportunity roster of demographic targets, and became himself the target of a complaint to the CHRC by activist Richard Warman, (the single largest source of Section 13 business for the CHRC for the last 10 years.) Warman alleged that postings on Lemire's website, written by others, were "likely to expose" identifiable groups to "hatred or contempt."

However, testimony revealed that some of the comments were the work of agents provocateur within the CHRC itself, one of whom on the stand dismissed free speech as "an American concept:" Together with allegations of anonymous postings using an unprotected Wi-Fi account near the CHRC offices, these helped Lemire's defence reveal the manner in which the CHRC had evolved from its original, limited goals. Further, even the specifics against Lemire were mostly too slight to merit condemnation, being rude but not hateful.

None of this in any way affects the hate-speech provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code. It is completely different legislation, with higher standards of proof and evidence -- a key distinction from human rights commissions, that have very low standards of both, yet assumed the right to levy penalties appropriate to criminal prosecutions.

We had hoped such dramatic reform would come from the legislators who created these commissions, but if the tribunal itself has seen the error of past interpretations, we are not about to argue.

Neither should the only two players with status to appeal --the Conservative government and the CHRC itself.

Who knows what the CHRC will do, but this is the outcome the Tories should have sought through legislation, but didn't.

They must now receive it as the gift it is--or infuriate their base when there's election talk in the air.