‘Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.” –Canadian “Human Rights” Investigator Dean Steacy, responding to the question “What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate?”
This is the way free speech ends, not with a bang but as the result of an administrative hearing in a windowless basement in Vancouver, Canada.
At least that’s where a “Human Rights Tribunal” is taking place this week that will further solidify the Canadian legal position that the right not to be offended by something you read is more sacred than the freedom of the press.
At issue is a cover story National Review
’s own Mark Steyn wrote for the Canadian newsweekly Maclean’s
, titled “The Future Belongs to Islam.” An excerpt from Steyn’s bestselling book America Alone
, the article highlighted the fact that demographic trends suggest that Muslims may well become a majority in much of Europe and that this obviously represents a threat to Europe as we know it. A few Muslim law students objected to the article and filed multiple complaints with Canada’s national and provincial “human rights” tribunals and presto! Steyn’s opinion and Maclean
’s right to print it have now been effectively criminalized.
The fact that a few fringe Muslims have reacted to Steyn’s article by invoking a once-obscure Canadian bureaucratic process to hold hostage the rights of all Canadians only goes to prove that Steyn needs to be heard, more than ever.
So with all due respect to our friendly neighbors to the north, what the hell is wrong with Canada and how did this happen?
In 1977, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) was founded “to investigate and try to settle complaints of discrimination in employment and in the provision of services within federal jurisdiction.” While their mandate was suspiciously vague from the get-go, even those involved with the founding of the CHRC admit that it was never intended to do anything as abhorrent as regulate speech. At the outset, the commission’s responsibilities were fairly straightforward, e.g. investigating cases of discriminatory hiring practices within the government, discriminatory housing practices, and other cases in which someone might be subject to prejudice in an area under the purview of the federal government.
But with almost Newtonian certainty, bureaucratic power tends to expand over time, and so it was with the CHRC. In 1979, the commission set its sights on John Ross Taylor, leader of the Western Guard Party, an unsavory white-supremacist group. The commission found Taylor guilty of violating Canada’s human-rights legislation for distributing a phone number that provided anti-Semitic recorded messages.
Now whatever you think of Taylor, he wasn’t broadcasting hate speech: One had to make the specific effort to call the number to hear his nasty messages. So Taylor filed an appeal on the grounds that the Human Rights Commission had denied him his right to free speech.
By 1990, the case finally wound up before the Supreme Court of Canada, in Canada (Human rights commission) v. Taylor. At issue were two conflicting pieces of law. First, section 13.1 of the Canadian Human Rights Act:
13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.
And of course the Canadian Charter of Rights (similar to the U.S. Bill of Rights), which one would think is pretty clear:
Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
a) freedom of conscience and religion;
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d) freedom of association.
Supreme Court of Canada split 4-3 on a decision that declared that section 13.1 of the Canadian Human Rights Act did not violate the charter of rights, and it remains constitutional. Oh sure, the justices in favor made grumblings about applying a high standard when enforcing the Human Rights Act, but despite their admonition, the general interpretation by the human-rights commissions is that they now have free rein to regulate the media. The slippery slope has been a toboggan ride to hell ever since.
What this means is that everyone in Canada now has fundamental freedoms, provided they’re not in conflict with whatever specious definition of “human rights” the CHRC chooses to apply. The threshold for conviction set by the Human Rights Act is incredibly low, because its highly subjective language means that “likely to cause contempt” is as good as a preponderance of evidence establishing guilt. There’s also the matter of the commission’s tribunals, which — unlike legal proceedings — are largely administrative in nature, so there’s little in the way of formal rules of evidence or procedure. There are few things in life more terrifying than being dragged into court knowing ahead of time that truth isn’t necessarily a defense and that the judge is winging it.