Our readers know Mark Steyn well. His witty and learned commentary appears in every issue of National Review, and in many other English publications across the world. What Steyn’s American readers may not know is that a Muslim advocacy group in his native Canada is doing its best to muzzle him.
On December 4, the Canadian Islamic Congress announced that it had filed a complaint with three of Canada’s “human rights commissions” over an October 2006 article that Steyn had published in Maclean’s, Canada’s leading news weekly. “This article completely misrepresents Canadian Muslims’ values, their community, and their religion,” said Faisal Joseph, an attorney representing the complainants, in a press release. “We feel that it is imperative to challenge Maclean’s biased portrayal of Muslims in order to protect Canadian multiculturalism and tolerance.”
The article in question was adapted from Steyn’s recent book America Alone, which argues that Western society may be irrevocably altered — and not for the better — by unassimilated Muslim immigration. It’s no surprise that this thesis is controversial, probably in part because Steyn makes his points so well. But the real threat to tolerance here is the CIC, which would have the state impose penalties on those whose writings it disagrees with.
In doing so it only provides evidence for Steyn’s thesis. Another group of Canadian Muslims — the Muslim Canadian Congress — has said as much, denouncing the CIC’s complaint for affirming “the stereotype that Muslims have little empathy for vigorous debate and democracy.” But at the moment, the CIC’s push for censorship advances. Of the three human-rights commissions to which it submitted its complaint, two have agreed to hear the case. (The third has yet to decide.)
Since their founding, Canada’s human-rights commissions have done less to protect the rights of minorities than to undermine the liberties of everyone. To get an idea of what they’re like, consider the recent case of Stephen Boissoin.
Boissoin, a Baptist minister, learned that the Alberta Human Rights Commission was funding an initiative that described homosexuality as “normal, necessary, acceptable and productive.” Boissoin objected to this and wanted to make his views known. As he put it to a Canadian Internet publication: “[I] felt that as a taxpayer, and indirect funder of this initiative through my tax dollars, I had a right to communicate my opinion which is reflective of my religious beliefs. In an attempt to do so, I decided to potentially share my opinion at large by submitting letters to the editor in newspapers.”
The publication of one such letter brought a complaint from a “social justice” advocate, and Boissoin was dragged before the very body he had complained about — the Alberta Human Rights Commission. That was 2002. It took five years of anxiety-filled and expensive legal proceedings for the commission to rule against Boissoin. They determined that he had violated Alberta’s laws because there was, as one commission member put it, a “circumstantial connection” between the publication of the letter and an incident of gay-bashing. “Circumstantial connection” is of course another way of saying that Boissoin had nothing to do with it. One wonders in passing whether the same can be said of the Koran, and which side the commission would take if Maclean’s published a few choice Koranic passages on homosexuality.
Even if the human-rights commissions eventually rule for Steyn and Maclean’s, the proceedings will be costly, and will intimidate others who wish to express controversial views. To his great credit, one conservative Canadian cabinet minister, Jason Kenney, has spoken in defense of Steyn. Some of the Canadian press is coming to Steyn’s defense as well. We hope the chorus swells.
And we hope Americans raise their voices too. So far the U.S. media have paid little attention to the case, but it should matter to us. Steyn’s writings — even those in Canadian publications — have a large and influential American readership. We trust those readers prefer that Canada remain free.