Monday, June 23, 2008

Up to a point

If I lived in Canada, I could be summoned before a so-called Human Rights Commission and charged with a hate crime for writing on this blog that allowing members of the world's largest intolerant group to immigrate to my country is a bad idea. At best, I would be forced to spend thousands of dollars to defend myself from expressing a political idea; at worst, I would be convicted by the commission — not a court with even such protections as the Canadian legal system allows — and have to pay more thousands of dollars to my accusers. The Toronto Star, which bills itself as Canada's largest daily newspaper, yesterday published an opinion column by Haroon Siddiqui that explains why I and writers like me should be put in the dock for failing to observe a "reasonable limit" on free speech.
Only genuine misunderstanding or deliberate distortion can explain the media's mostly one-sided discourse on the case of Maclean's before the federal, as well as the Ontario and British Columbia, human rights commissions. The group that filed the complaint against the magazine argued that a series of articles, especially a 4,800-word piece portraying Muslims as a menace to the West, may have constituted hate speech.
The now-famous article was, of course, the excerpt from Mark Steyn's book America Alone. Agree or disagree that Islam is a menace to the West, that is a matter of political opinion, and actually pretty mild compared with what many say or privately think. Steyn, like that other halfway house of anti-jihad inspiration, Melanie Phillips, can't even find it in himself to suggest that the West would save itself from a spot of bother by calling time out on Muslim immigration. Much less has he (or I, or any blogger I read) recommended harming a single hair on the head of any Muslim outside of a war zone or by the due process of law.

Nonetheless, Canada and Siddiqui maintain that saying Islam — which has as its heart an absolute loyalty to shari'a law over any other manmade law — is a threat to a supposedly free and pluralistic country may be "hate speech." If you need any evidence that Islam cannot accept criticism, cannot understand the give-and-take of an open society, there is Exhibit A.

Canada has followed a different path on free speech than the United States, where there are no anti-hate laws because the U.S. Bill of Rights says "Congress shall make no laws ... abridging freedom of speech or of the press. The Canadian Charter of Rights, too, guarantees "freedom of the press," but it places "reasonable limits" on it. That's why the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the anti-hate provisions of both the Criminal Code and human rights statutes. What constitutes hate is up to the commissions and, ultimately, the courts to decide.

That's exactly what gives some of us the chills. The definition of "hate speech" is what these commissions decide it is … after the fact. (The U.S. Constitution also prohibits ex post facto laws.) As for the courts, they don't seem to be in the checks-and-balances business. Of 15 "hate crime" judgments, 15 have been upheld. By Siddiqui's circular reasoning, the "anti-hate" laws are right because the Supreme Court of Canada says they're right.

Barbara Hall, chair of the Ontario commission, makes the … point: "Freedom of expression is not the only right in the Charter. There is a full set of rights accorded to all members of our society, including freedom from discrimination ... If you want to stand up and defend the right to freedom of expression, then you must be willing to do the same for the right to freedom from discrimination."
In this warped mindscape, questioning the political implications of someone's beliefs is "discrimination." Canada has freedom of expression — "Up to a point, Lord Copper," as the fawning editor in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop invariably says to his fearsome publisher when he means "no."

Ms. Hall, you are not fit to pronounce on freedom of expression, nor to judge anyone's use of it. I dare you to step across the border and sue me for discrimination. Or hate speech. Or not bowing low enough.

UPDATE 6/24: Writing the above post in haste (posthaste, ha ha!), I was not as clear as I would like to have been. The Canadian "hate speech" laws are not strictly ex post facto, having existed before the alleged offenses. But the effect is almost the same, since their application turns on a tribunal's or court's interpretation. Unlike laws against actions, which can be fairly specific, laws against speech or writing must by their nature be vague and ambiguous because they are about the effect on the "victim," which can be no more than a feeling. So the tribunal or court is weighing intangibles, which can easily be decided on political grounds.

UPDATE 6/25: Another province of the Islamic Republic of Canadastan heard from. This time it's a column in The Ottawa Citizen, to remind us again that "free speech has limits."
Faced with such content, a group of Muslim law students did what most citizens of a democratic society would do. … They demanded a response and Maclean's editors refused to publish one. Since Maclean's does not subscribe to a press council, they then did what a number of other communities, including the aboriginal, black, Jewish, and gay and lesbian communities have already done.
Namely, called for a NuStalinist show trial of Macleans and Steyn. I don't know what a Canadian press council is, although it sounds like something I'd steer well clear of, but it might be of interest to this columnist to know that a publication like Macleans is a private enterprise (or what passes for one in Canada), which no one is forced to read, and which is under no obligation to publish a response from anyone who happens to disagree with something it prints. That's what publications with different viewpoints — freedom of the press, if the Canadian Human Rights Commission and its running dogs will forgive the expression — are for.

Here's something I hadn't run across before: "The definition of 'hatred' applied by the tribunal was formulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1990 case: a feeling of deep ill-will that allows for no redeeming quality in the targeted group." So if I write in Canada that Islam is deeply incompatible with Western society, and a politico-religious system with an inordinate number of members who dismember members of other faiths, but there are some quite beautiful arabesque tiles from the 14th century and splendid calligraphic versions of the Qu'ran from the same period, I cannot be brought up on charges? I'd offer myself as a test case, but I prefer on balance to enjoy such protections as the United States still grudgingly provides its citizens.



David said...

This is sadly not only a Canadian issue. There are plenty of people in America, too, who would like to restrict free speech.

For example...

Alex said...

The restriction of free speech - especially with reference to Muslim immigration - is international in its scope.

No Western society that I can think of, pays more than lip service to free speech if a politically correct "principle" is at stake.

Sebastian said...

The New York Times has already started laying the ground for this sort of law. Note the title of the piece, "Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech." Ergo, freedom of speech is really nothing but a license to offend and hurt feelings. Also, "unlike others" can only be a bad thing for the Times. It's an amazing piece of preliminary propaganda to soften the hearts of liberals.