The Corner

Canada’s Human Rights Nightmare

Yesterday I worried over the lack of any defense of Mark Steyn, or any criticism of Canada’s abusive so-called human rights commissions, in Canada’s National Post. Today, I m delighted to discover Ezra Levant’s, “Censorship in the name of ‘human rights,” published in the National Post (although, oddly, it seems not to mention Steyn by name). This is the most thorough and powerful critique of Canada’s human rights commissions I’ve yet seen. It’s too good to excerpt. I urge you to simply read this extraordinary and frightening account.

Keeping Levant’s piece in mind, let’s return to Garry J. Wise, the Toronto attorney who writes for the Wise Law Blog. Wise has responded to my post from yesterday by maintaining that he did not speak too soon in defense of Canada’s human rights commissions. “It requires no further research,” he says, “to identify the conservative reaction to this matter as entirely over-the-top.” Wise denies that the Steyn case casts a chill over Canadian writers. Yet Wise continues to ignore the stream of opinion pieces by conservative Canadian journalists who emphatically insist otherwise. Wise dismisses as “just silly” the notion that “the system itself and the very important protections it affords should simply be tossed.”

Or is Wise’s quick and thinly-argued dismissal of conservative complaints itself a bit silly? In his first post, Wise assured us that: “Our press also has broad freedoms and protection in Canada–these will weigh heavily in the balance of any tribunal determination of these complaints.” Really? Have a look at Ezra Levant’s piece and see if you agree. Nor has Wise seriously responded to the argument (the most important issue here, in my view) that merely bringing a complaint before a human rights commission has a chilling effect on freedom of expression. What about the burden of court costs that falls on defendants, but not complainants? What about the vague legal charter of these human rights commissions, their continually expanding powers, their problematic appointment-process and personnel, the Orwellian nature of the punishments they mandate, the dangerously weak standards of proof, and the general disregard for the very legal protections Wise claims we can rely on? What about writers and publications less well-placed than Steyn and Maclean’s?

Read Levant and you’ll see the speech protections Canada so graciously offers with one hand crudely snatched away by the other. Just keep piling on all those laws, regulations and rules. Such assurances as Garry is pleased to call wise will satisfy only fools.

How are we to explain such blithe complacency about the chilling effects of the Steyn affair? Simple. Liberal Canadians like Wise don’t worry that human rights complaints might ever be brought against them. In his posts, Wise arguably insults Americans in general, and conservatives in particular. He complains about our “loaded” headlines, and our “hyperbolic commentary” and “invective.” With his talk of American conservative “spin” and “slanted commentaries,” Wise appears to impugn our integrity.

Combine all this with Wise’s condescending and sarcastic stance and it’s clear that Wise’s words are “likely to expose” Americans in general, and American conservatives in particular, to “hatred, contempt or discrimination.” In other words, if Wise’s blog posts were excerpted in Newsweek, and if America had Canadian-style human rights commissions, we just might be able to bring him to book! If this is what can be done with a comparatively polite blog post, imagine what we could do with half the blog commentary out there–if conservatives were a “protected group,” that is.

Thank goodness Wise needn’t worry about being slapped with some absurdly trumped-up charge, just for expressing his negative opinions about America’s conservatives. Yet Wise’s unreflective freedom to insult American conservatives likely explains why he can’t imagine anyone else’s speech being chilled by the Steyn affair. Canada’s conservative writers know better. They are the targets of these “human rights” commissions. And the double standards that exempt liberal opinion before such commissions mean that folks like Wise needn’t be concerned. No wonder he misses the Steyn affair’s chilling effect on Canada’s conservative writers..

I notice that Wise has added another post, with his more detailed opinion of the case against Steyn. There’s still no acknowledgment here of the chilling effects on speech of even a case without merit, or any confrontation with the numerous “process objections” to Canada’s human rights commissions. But what Wise does have to say may surprise and disturb you.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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