Viva Canada

A wit once remarked that Canada was a large and diverse country, united only in their belief of moral superiority over Americans. While there is some strain of that in the Canadian disposition, for the most part Canadians (if they have any common trait) are exceedingly polite. They seek to avoid conflict by drowning contention in as sea of good cheer and cordiality.  Some of thus cordiality has been codified in a misguided attempt to limit offensive speech through Human Rights Commissions (HRCs). The job of these commission is ostensibly to maintain a culture of civility by limiting what can be printed and broadcast. Because of  cultural pleasantness is so much part of the Canadian character, it is hard for them to recognize when this pleasantness is being exploited.

A small fraction of Islamic radicals in Canada have turned these commissions into government sponsored inquisitions seeking to eliminate criticism of Islam. While it costs nothing to make an accusation, if a Canadian Human Rights Commission begins an inquiry it can cost the accused thousands in legal fees, even if the case is one that is ultimately dismissed. The net effect is to chill free expression.

One of the most conspicuous cases of this type was brought against Mark Steyn. Steyn wrote the bestseller America Alone, which made the case that declining birthrates would cause the substitution of traditional Western values for Islamic ones, particularly in Europe. An article “The Future Belongs to Islam” in McCleans caused Steyn to be brought up before the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The Ontario HRC claimed that it did not have jurisdiction over the national McCleans. It did not hold a hearing but nonetheless “strongly condemn[ed] the Islamophobic portrayal of Muslims.” Without due process, Steyn’s reputation was tarnished by a government body.

The National Human Rights Commission acquitted Steyn, saying that when taken as a whole, the article was not extreme. However, the ruling left open the possibility that a Human Rights Commission could punish more extreme views. The National Human Rights Commission retained on to itself the authority to regulate speech

More recently Ezra Levant, a Canadian political activist of Conservative conviction, was able to turn the tables on an HRC. Levant in the Western Standard magazine republished the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammad that caused violent clashes in Europe and elsewhere. Syed Soharwardy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada filed a complaint to the Alberta HRC because they found Levant’s publication offensive.

When Shirley McGovern a member of the Human Rights Commission interviewed Levant, he had the presence of mind to record a video of the meeting and to post in on YouTube. Levant eloquently stood up to the clearly dazed commissioner and challenged the right of the commission to dare restrict the rights of a free citizens to publish whatever he wants without answering to any government authority. The video was a YouTube hit embarrassing the Alberta HRC. In light of the publicity, Soharwardy withdrew the complaint. One wonders whether that would have been the final disposition if there had been no video.

Levant is a true hero for freedom and Canadians should be proud to have so eloquent a spokesperson.

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