AT its best, Western civilization has fostered freedom of speech and of thought. But Canada has a better idea.
Last week, a Human Rights Tribunal in British Columbia considered a
complaint brought against journalist Mark Steyn for a piece in the
Canadian newsweekly Maclean's. The excerpt from Steyn's best-selling
book "America Alone" argued that high Muslim birthrates mean Europeans
will feel pressure to reach "an accommodation with their radicalized
The piece was obviously within
respectable journalistic bounds. In fact, combining hilarity and
profound social analysis, the article could be considered a sparkling
model of the polemical art - not surprising, given that Steyn is one of
North America's journalistic gems.
The Canadian Islamic
Congress took offense. In the normal course of things, that would mean
speaking or writing to counter Steyn. But not in 21st century Canada,
where the old liberal rallying cry "I hate what you say, but will fight
for your right to say it" no longer applies.
The country is
dotted with human-rights commissions. At first, they typically heard
discrimination suits against businesses. But since that didn't create
much work, the commissions branched out into policing "hate" speech.
Initially, they targeted neo-Nazis; then religious figures who'd
condemned homosexuality; and now Maclean's and Steyn.
rallying cry is, "If I hate what you say, I'll accuse you of hate." The
Canadian Islamic Council got the Human Rights Tribunal in British
Columbia and the national Canadian Human Rights Commission (where
proceedings are still pending) to agree to hear its complaint. It had
to like its odds.
The national commission has never found
anyone innocent in 31 years. It is set up for classic
Alice-in-Wonderland "verdict first, trial later" justice: Canada's
Human Rights Act defines hate speech as speech "likely to expose a
person or persons to hatred or contempt." That language is so capacious
and vague that to be accused is tantamount to being found guilty.
Unlike in defamation law, truth is no defense, and there's no
obligation to prove harm. One of the principal investigators of the
Canadian Human Rights Commission was asked in a hearing what value he
puts on freedom of speech in his work, and replied, "Freedom of speech
is an American concept, so I don't give it any value." Clearly.
In British Columbia, the Steyn hearing proceeded with all the marsupial
ungainliness of a kangaroo court. No one knew what the rules of
evidence were. Hilariously, one of the chief complaints against Steyn
was that he quoted a Muslim imam in Norway bragging that in Europe "the
number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes." If that insect simile
is out-of-bounds, the commission should swoop down on Norway and
execute an extraordinary rendition of the imam.
has appropriately exposed the commissions to ridicule - and maybe some
hatred and contempt (if that's allowed). There are calls to strip them
of their power to regulate the media. This would limit the damage, even
as free speech is endangered elsewhere.
In Europe, saying the
wrong thing about gays or Muslims is routinely sanctioned by the state.
In France, the bombshell-turned-animal-rights-activist Brigitte Bardot
just collected her fifth fine, for complaining about how Muslims kill
Free speech is a very clean, neutral concept -
"Congress shall make no law . . ." Once a government begins policing
offensiveness, things get much murkier. It has to decide which groups
are protected and which aren't - the "who/whom" of Lenin's power
relations. So, even though there are plenty of fire-breathing imams in
Canada, no one ever pesters them about their hatefulness.
is the genius of Muslim grievance groups to leverage Western
anti-discrimination laws to their advantage. In his Maclean's essay,
Steyn noted how in much of the West, "the early 21st century's
principal political dynamic" is whether something offends Muslims.
Indeed - but in Canada, truth is no defense.