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Free Speech vs. Muslim Sensibilities By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ezra Levant didn’t know it, but when the conservative Canadian activist and lawyer published the now-notorious “Muhammad cartoons” in his magazine, the Western Standard, in 2006, he launched a cultural counterinsurgency against political correctness and the creeping advance of Islamism in the Great White North.

In publishing the controversial drawings, which continue to spark riots in the Muslim world, Levant’s Western Standard became one of only two Canadian publications to do so. Not long afterwards, Canada's oldest newsweekly, Maclean's, printed an excerpt from the bestselling book America Alone, by their columnist Mark Steyn. The essay explored the implications of Europe's changing demographic profile. As Steyn saw it, below-replacement-level birthrates among native secular Europeans, combined with the high fertility rates of the continent's largely unassimilated Muslim immigrants, was creating a perfect storm on the continent.

This all proved too much for a couple of self-styled Muslim "community leaders," one of whom initially tried to have Levant arrested. Reminded by the Calgary police that they were no longer living in Saudi Arabia, the imam and his Ontario counterpart brought their respective grievances about Steyn and Levant to the closest thing Canada has to an Islamic sharia court: the Human Rights Commission.

Canada's Human Rights Commissions (CHRCs) were established in the 1970s to address case-by-case discrimination in areas such as housing and employment. Initially empowered to investigate legitimate violations, the Commissions and their tribunals soon began using their powers to silence citizens who declined to embrace the new vision of Canada being foisted upon them by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau: multicultural and pacifist; blindly tolerant; anti-tradition, anti-family and anti-life.

So when a Catholic bishop sent out a pastoral letter explaining the Church's opposition to gay marriage, a gay activist filed a CHRC "discrimination" complaint. Similar complaints were filed against letters-to-the-editor and newspaper ads perceived to be "homophobic."

Sean Murphy of the Catholic Civil Rights League aptly summed up one notorious case, in which, "a Christian printer is ordered to produce business cards and letterhead for an organization that promotes pro-pedophilia essays, is fined $5,000 for having refused to do so and is left with $40,000 in legal bills for daring to defend himself."

And few Canadians cared. On the rare occasions that these cases made the news, the average citizen either sided with the complainants over "those old fashioned, bigoted Christians" or took the unmistakable hint and kept quiet.

Most Canadians don't realize that these Commissions and tribunals aren't "real" courts. They operate outside the criminal justice system in an Orwellian world of their own. To the CHRCs, traditional rules of evidence don't apply. Truth is no defense. Commissioners can confiscate a defendant's computer without a warrant. Defendants can be forced to apologize to their accusers, even though the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that even convicted murderers cannot be obliged to apologize to their victim's family; that, the Court ruled, would be, "cruel and unusual punishment."

Incredibly, the CHRCs boast a Stalinist 100 percent conviction rate: no one has ever been found "not guilty." Columnist David Warren's chilling description of CHRC tribunals is impossible to improve upon:

"They are kangaroo courts, in which the defendant's right to due process is withdrawn. They reach judgments on the basis of no fixed law. Moreover, 'the process is the punishment' in these star chambers -- for simply by agreeing to hear a case, they tie up the defendant in bureaucracy and paperwork, and bleed him for the cost of lawyers, while the person who brings the complaint, however frivolous, stands to lose nothing. (...)

"That's why you go to an HRC: because your case is not good enough to stand up in a legitimate court of law. And because you don't want to invest your own time and money, but would rather the taxpayer provide officers to do the paperwork, and pick up the tab. Instead, you want a slam-dunk way in which you can victimize someone you don't like, by playing the victim yourself, without any financial or legal consequences, except to him. 'Human rights' commissions were designed to provide just this service, for the use of persons who are both litigious, and lazy."

Enter Mohammed Elmasry and Syed Soharwardy, two self-styled "Muslim community leaders." In separate complaints, they've accused Ezra Levant and Maclean's magazine of violating the Canadian Human Rights Act, because what they published is allegedly, in the words of Section 13(1), "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt."

Note that magic word: "likely." There's no need to prove that these publications inspired actual hate crimes, like arson or assault. Rather, unelected, unaccountable CHRC bureaucrats need merely deem it "likely" that words or images in the Western Standard or Maclean's might inspire persons unknown to commit offenses of some sort or other between now and the end of the world. That's "thought crime" meets "future crime," but without the cool flying cars you'd at least get in a dystopian sci-fi flick. And it is enshrined in Canadian law.

Canada's conservative bloggers ran with both stories in the winter of 2007, months before the mainstream media even seemed aware of the controversies. Many bloggers reprinted the offending Maclean's article in its entirety, essentially daring the CHRCs to charge them, too. In no time, an independent blog called FreeMarkSteyn.com became the one-stop clearinghouse for news and commentary. An online anti-CHRC petition garnered thousands of signatures.

Steyn and Levant employed their considerable rhetorical skills to defend themselves and, not incidentally, to mock their radical Muslim accusers and their "sharia-lite" attempts at punishing two uppity infidels.

Steyn repeatedly reminded readers that his opponent, Dr. Mohammed Elmasry, was a rather unlikely defender of "human rights":

"... he's the guy who said on Canadian TV [in 2004] that he thought all Israeli civilians over the age of 18 were legitimate targets for murder. In other words, he is an objective supporter of terrorism - I've got no complaint against that: he's entitled to his views, I just wish he thought I was entitled to mine.

"But it does show you how absurd this is, that a guy who is an active supporter of terrorism is suddenly the poster-boy for Canadian human rights."

Meanwhile, Ezra Levant defied the authorities and filmed his initial interrogation at the Alberta tribunal - a video he promptly posted on Youtube.com. Half a million hits later, Levant had become an overnight hero to freedom lovers around the Anglosphere, thanks to his inspiring opening statement, which read in part:

"For a government bureaucrat to call any publisher or anyone else to an interrogation to be quizzed about his political or religious expression is a violation of 800 years of common law, a Universal Declaration of Rights, a Bill of Rights and a Charter of Rights. This commission is applying Saudi values, not Canadian values. It is also deeply procedurally one-sided and unjust. The complainant - in this case, a radical Muslim imam, who was trained at an officially anti-Semitic university in Saudi Arabia, and who has called for sharia law to govern Canada - doesn't have to pay a penny; Alberta taxpayers pay for the prosecution of the complaint against me. The victims of the complaints, like the Western Standard, have to pay for their own lawyers from their own pockets. Even if we win, we lose."

Then a glimmer of hope came from an unlikely source. A Liberal Member of Parliament, Dr. Keith Martin, introduced a private motion that reads: "That, in the opinion of the House, subsection 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act should be deleted from the Act." Private members motions rarely become law, but the gesture - from a Liberal Party big shot of all things --was a moral booster that also helped finally make the Steyn/Levant cases national news.

One major newspaper, then another editorialized in defense of Steyn's and Levant's right to free expression without bureaucratic interference.

Eventually even some left-leaning groups and individuals expressed their concerns about the CHRC's power to censor. They ranged from PEN Canada to, of all people, Noam Chomsky.

It all proved too much for Levant's accuser, Syed Soharwardy. Two years after he'd filed his case against Levant (in the form of a hand-scrawled letter, no less) Soharwardy withdrew the complaint in early February. Although he's lived in Canada since 1980, he told the Calgary Herald that he previously hadn't realized understood, "that most Canadians see this as an issue of freedom of speech, that that principle is sacred and holy in our society."

Soharwardy may have to pay for being so slow on the uptake. Ezra Levant estimates that the imam has cost him approximately $100,000 in legal fees, not to mention his magazine, which is now defunct. Levant, a defamation attorney by training, is considering suing - in a real court.

Meanwhile, Mark Steyn is still slated to appear before a British Columbia tribunal this summer, to defend himself against charges of "blatant Islamophobia." His supporters pray that Elmasry will follow Soharwardy's lead and drop the complaint against Maclean's.

Yet for every victory, freedom loving Canadians suffer another setback in the war on creeping sharia. Consider the "welfare harems" reportedly being supported by Ontario taxpayers. Mumtaz Ali, president of the Canadian Society of Muslims, recently told the Toronto Sun that, "Polygamy is a regular part of life for many Muslims," estimating that "several hundred" Toronto area husbands are collecting government benefits to support their multiple wives. "Canada is a very liberal-minded country," Ali observed.

Indeed it is. But it is a funny sort of "liberalism" that only rediscovers its ideals about liberty after decades of willful indifference and countless ruined lives. The good news is that the Islamists and their allies in Canada seem poised to lose this particular fight. But the battle to defend Western society has only just begun.


Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.

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