Most of the media in Canada and the United States ignored the British Columbia “Human Rights” Tribunal that took place last week in a windowless basement in Vancouver. Now, a group of provincial human-rights commissars will decide whether or not National Review’s incomparable Mark Steyn and the largest-circulating magazine in Canada, Maclean’s, will be fined or otherwise censured for printing an excerpt from Steyn’s book, America Alone. The piece argued that demographic trends indicate that Western Civilization will sooner or later be forced to confront problems associated with radical Islam. We believe that the right to free speech must be defended almost without exception, but it’s worth noting that Steyn’s article was perfectly within the bounds of reasonable opinion journalism.
While only an administrative hearing, the human-rights travesty had the air and authority of an actual trial — except with few of the legal protections usually afforded the accused. Andrew Coyne, a journalist with Maclean’s, live-blogged the farce; his dispatches were as amusing as they were harrowing. The proceedings had no evidentiary rules — new evidence was routinely introduced without warning. Commissioners routinely recessed to determine the eligibility of evidence; legal representation would dash off mid-hearing to print Internet material to introduce as evidence; an “expert” witness was called whose chief credentials were academic papers on Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and still other witnesses were called under the prejudicial direction that “we anticipate that success in this case will provide the impetus for prohibiting discriminatory publications in the other provinces.”
That’s right: This was only a provincial trial. The Canadian Islamic Congress — the radical Muslim complainants — went jurisdiction shopping, so once the trial in British Columbia concludes, Steyn and Maclean’s will find themselves the targets of another witch hunt at the national Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC). Both “courts” can impose penalties separate from each other, and the legal costs are likely to be astronomical. (The complainant’s legal representation is conveniently provided by the state at no charge.) Incredibly enough, in 31 years, the CHRC has not once dismissed a charge that has been brought before it. Could the courts in Soviet Russia have boasted of such a success rate?
Supporters of free speech can do a few simple things. First, the Canadian and U.S. media need to start speaking out soon, and loudly. Aside from the fact that condemning these kinds of tribunals is the right thing to do, such proceedings also threaten the press’s very livelihood. So far, the public in Canada and elsewhere remain woefully uninformed about what’s going on.
Second, American and international political figures also need to speak out. A surefire way to get these tribunals onto the front page in Canada would be if they were roundly condemned by leaders from around the world. Speaking out in favor of free expression here is also important because, after the Danish cartoon incident, Muslims countries have been pressuring the U.N. to weaken its support of free expression as it relates to perceived offenses to Islam.
Third, support is needed for the inchoate political attempts to shut down these ridiculous inquests. Liberal Canadian MP Keith Martin has introduced what is known under parliamentary rules as a “private members bill” to do away with the section of the Canadian Human Rights Act upon which these tribunals rely for their authority to regulate media. And as a matter of principle, the conservative government currently in power in Canada should oppose these tribunals. The liberal Martin is the perfect spokesmen for the ruling party to get behind in a cross-ideological push to remove this threat to a fundamental Western freedom.
Silence only serves the cause of this miscarriage of justice. Speak up — and free Steyn, Maclean’s, and Canada.