For half a decade, ever since the Canadian Islamic Congress attempted to criminalize my writing, I’ve found myself waging a grim campaign for freedom of speech in my native land. We’ve had some success along the way, seeing off the Islamic enforcers, and getting a disgraceful federal law first rendered unenforceable and then repealed by the House of Commons. My comrade Ezra Levant and I are excitable chaps: As I like to put it, we went Magna Carta on the Canadian censors’ medieval ass. My publisher, Ken Whyte, is rather more house-trained, and used to say that the end game was getting the issue to the supreme court in Ottawa and having it ruled unconstitutional. He seemed confident we had the votes.
No, we don’t. Last month, the Canadian supreme court, at a stroke, undid all the good work of the last five years, reaffirmed the state’s role in the thought-crime business, rejected truth as a defense, and took a narrow, generation-old ruling on “hate speech” and carelessly broadened it. And they did it unanimously. Nearly four centuries after John Milton declared, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties,” on the highest court in one of the oldest democratic jurisdictions on earth there is not a single vote for the rough-and-tumble of unfettered speech necessary to any free society.
The case in question was a minor one. Way back at the turn of the century, Bill Whatcott was convicted by the Saskatchewan “Human Rights” Tribunal for distributing a couple of unread flyers around Regina and Saskatoon with titles like “Sodomites in Our Public Schools.” Ooh, yes, he said “sodomite”! In a free society, there’s always the danger someone will utter the word “sodomite.” As perilous as that is, erecting a permanent bureaucracy of aggressive apparatchiks to force us into state-mandated niceness is a thousand times more perilous. Not to mention just plain creepy.
It’s traditional at this point for us free-speech crusaders to say how personally reprehensible we find Mr. Whatcott’s musings. But to be honest I can’t be bothered. Apart from the peculiar intensity of his obsession, he seems a harmless enough fellow. He takes the traditional Christian position of hating the sin but loving the sinner, pointing out that “the Church of Jesus Christ is blessed with many ex-Sodomites.” Of course, if one were seriously interested in getting “sodomites” out of the public-school system, one would eschew the term as unlikely to win converts to one’s cause. Thus, the very expression identifies Mr. Whatcott as someone entirely without influence in the public discourse.
On the other hand, the supreme court’s words are truly offensive, beginning with its breezy contempt for “truthful statements” and its preference for “group rights” over individual liberty. In Canada, gay marriage is legal coast to coast; “gay-straight alliance” groups are mandated in every school in Ontario; Catholic educational institutions are obliged to let students bring their same-sex partners to the prom; publicly funded “Pride” parades are obligatory in not just the louche metropolitan fleshpots but remote small towns; gay arts festivals are enthusiastically sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, Air Canada, and every other important corporation. As societal approval goes, that’s not bad for a demographic that represents 2 percent of the population. Mr. Whatcott’s minority group — evangelicals — makes up about 8 percent of the population but is in no danger of municipally funded parades, or mandatory “evangelical-secular alliances,” or corporate sponsorship from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. All Mr. Whatcott’s left with are his photocopied flyers, with handwritten margin notes.
But that clear and present threat “demonstrably justifies” the supreme court in sodomizing the hell out of Canadians’ free-speech rights.
By contrast, consider Bilal Philips, a Toronto boy who “reverted” to Islam in 1972 and was the keynote speaker at last year’s big shindig at the Muslim Council of Calgary. He doesn’t want the sodomites expelled from school life, merely from life in general: He believes that every homosexual should face the “punishment for deviant behavior . . . which is death.” But don’t get the wrong idea: “The media tends to take my words out of context,” he said, explaining that he only favors the execution of all male homosexuals in Muslim countries, which Alberta is not, yet. So the head of the Calgary Police Diversity Unit, Bill Dodd, and various other panjandrums of Canadian officialdom were happy to attend the conference with Mr. Philips, because, after all, you can’t get more diverse than a multiculti squish sitting side by side with a bloke who wants to behead every gay in town. The mayor of Calgary, an Ismaili Muslim called Naheed Nenshi, was less enthusiastic about Mr. Philips, but says he has “the right to say his piece.”
Exactly. In Canada, the law denies “the right to say his piece” to the likes of Bill Whatcott, a man who believes that homosexuals are sinners and in need of God’s grace and forgiveness, but it has no objection to those who think homosexuals are evil and should be put to death. Mr. Philips need never fear the scrutiny of the “human rights” commission, or the cost of ten-year legal battles.
No homosexual needs the state’s protection from Bill Whatcott. But all of us need protection from nitwit jurists blithely sacrificing core Western liberties to ideological compliance. It’s not about Left vs. Right, gay vs. straight, religious vs. secular; it’s about free vs. unfree. And on that most profound question, Canada’s supreme court is on the wrong side. Nuts to them.
– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline (www.steynonline.com).