In Maclean’s, staff optimist and all-around-softy Colby Cosh tries to make lemonade out of the sour Whatcott ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada:
The ruling was appalling in a number of ways, most notably in its dismissal of any possibility of a truth defence against human rights commissions who hunt “hate speech.” The court specifically insists that true statements arranged in certain ways can be officially “hateful,” conceding a total lack of interest in truth and basically handing its banner over to the commissions’ targets. For liberals who share the goals of these commissions, this is a moral disaster that can only multiply Bill Whatcotts ad infinitum. People of the Whatcott type already believe themselves to be in special possession of suppressed facts, and now the court has said explicitly that spreading falsehoods is no part of their offence.
But since we columnists are in the business of telling truth, whatever a court thinks, it ought to be admitted that, dead or alive, free speech in Canada was never in such good shape. The Supreme Court’s decision is an elaborate partial rescue of standing precedent; the constitutionality of hate policing by provincial commissions was established many years ago, and the unpleasant surprise is only that it wasn’t killed on this occasion.
[. . .]
For those of us who make a living in creative or intellectual expression, it is worth something to have the laws limiting it defined as clearly as possible while being compacted into a minimum volume. The Supreme Court has made the rules clearer, and this is not to be sneered at, even if its logic sometimes is — especially since the overall authority of human rights commissions has undergone net diminution in the process. It is just possible the chief justice wasn’t entirely asleep at the switch.
In the Ottawa Citizen, Karen Selick explains why the Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision in the Whatcott case was so surprising:
For 22 years, free-speechers have cherished the hope that another case involving censorship and human rights legislation would come back before Chief Justice McLachlin. That’s because in 1990, before becoming chief justice, she wrote dissenting judgments in two cases, Taylor and Keegstra. Her opinion then was that the censorship sections of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) and the Criminal Code violated the Charter guarantee of freedom of expression, and that the violation was not justified in our free, democratic society. She therefore voted to strike down the censorship clauses as unconstitutional.
Justice McLachlin was outvoted in both Taylor and Keegstra by the narrowest of margins: 4-3. The majority of the 1990 court found both the CHRA and the Criminal Code provisions constitutional. However, Justice McLachlin penned a long and eloquent paean to freedom of expression, recounting its historical value as “an essential precondition of the search for truth,” a promoter of the “marketplace of ideas” and “an end in itself, a value essential to the sort of society we wish to preserve.”
Free-speechers hoped that, given another opportunity to exert her influence among an entirely different panel of SCC judges (she is the only member of the 1990 court still on the bench), she would be able to sway a majority to her 1990 views.
Instead, she herself has apparently abandoned those views, voting with a unanimous court (6-0) in the Whatcott case to uphold the main censorship clause of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
The Supreme Court of Canada demonstrated a lack of belief in the value of free speech in yesterday’s Whatcott ruling:
The very first line in the Supreme Court’s calamitous decision in the case of Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott gives a clue to where it is going. “All rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” it declares, “are subject to reasonable limitations.”
This is a legal truism, but as always it is as important what the Court did not say. It did not choose to begin a ruling on an important freedom of speech case with a ringing affirmation of the importance of free speech, or what an extraordinary thing it is to place restrictions upon it.
Indeed, in its haste to get on with the limiting, it did not even pause to properly quote the section of the Charter that grants the state such authority. The Charter “guarantees” the rights set out in it, Section 1 declares, “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The limits don’t just have to be reasonable. They have to be “demonstrably justified.”
Where the Court’s view of such limits is expansive and approving, the Charter is grudging (“only”) and cautious (“demonstrably”). That’s as it should be. If we accept the bedrock premise of a free society, that government is its servant and not its master, then it is up to the state, always, to ask the citizens’ permission before it intrudes on their liberty, and to prove its necessity: it is never the citizen’s obligation to show why he may remain unmolested. That spirit is lamentably absent from the Court’s reasoning.
As if we needed any reminder that the UN is a political entity, this story by Hillel Neuer should provide a useful refresher:
According to the World Food Program, half a million people don’t have enough to eat in Syria. Fears are growing that the regime is using hunger as a weapon.
This is the kind of emergency which should attract the attention of the UN Human Rights Council’s hunger monitor, who has the ability to spotlight situations and place them on the world agenda. Yet Olivier de Schutter of Belgium, the “Special Rapporteur on the right to food,” is not going to Syria.
Instead, the UN’s food monitor is coming to investigate Canada.
That’s right. Despite dire food emergencies around the globe, De Schutter will be devoting the scarce time and resources of the international community on an 11-day tour of Canada — a country that ranks at the bottom of global hunger concerns.
A key co-ordinator and promoter of De Schutter’s mission is Food Secure Canada, a lobby group whose website accuses the Harper government of “failing Canadians…and [failing to] fulfill the right to food for all.” The group calls instead for a “People’s Food Policy.”
[. . .]
Before Canadians can take De Schutter seriously, they ought to ask him some serious questions about whether his mission is about human rights or a political agenda.
First, consider the origins of the UN’s “right to food” mandate. In voluminous background information provided by De Schutter and his local promoters, there’s no mention that their sponsor was Cuba, a country where some women resort to prostitution for food. De Schutter does not want you to know that Havana’s Communist government created his post, nor that the co-sponsors included China, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe.
These and other repressive regimes are seeking a political weapon to attack the West. That is why the first person they chose to fill the post, when it started in 2000, was Jean Ziegler. The former Swiss Socialist politician was a man they could trust: In 1989, he announced to the world the creation of the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize.
H/T to Nicholas Packwood (Ghost of a Flea).
Luke Samuel thinks it’s time for people to declare themselves to be “human rights sceptics“:
You don’t have to be a little Englander, or even right wing, to recognise that it is an affront to democracy that unelected and completely unaccountable judges, who have absolutely no democratic mandate, are able to override the decisions of elected representatives. It is appalling that European judges can make significant political decisions over a body of citizens across Europe to whom they will never have to answer.
But there is a more fundamental reason that liberals should be sceptical of human-rights law: because it makes us all less free. Human rights are not ‘rights’ in a liberal sense at all. They bear no resemblance to the ‘rights’ fought for by the radical liberals of the English Civil War, or the French and American revolutions, which sought to limit the power of the state and protect the autonomy of citizens. Instead, human rights treat people as fundamentally vulnerable and in need of state protection. This view of human vulnerability, in the eyes of the human-rights lobby, justifies the granting of absolute power to the state to set the boundaries of freedom.
Take, for example, the ‘right to a private and family life’ protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The courts will not consider a claim under Article 8 unless it is convinced in the courtroom that you have a ‘family life’ worth protecting. How the courts have defined ‘family life’ for the purposes of Article 8 is laughably antiquated. In 2002, the courts ruled that ‘family life’ does not exist where a relationship between parents and their grown-up children is ‘only emotional’, in that the children are no longer economically dependent on their parents. Neither are unmarried parents likely to be considered a family, unless they maintain sufficient levels of contact with their children. How can any ‘liberal’ support the idea that your family life is only worthwhile if it conforms to what the state decides a family should look like?
Or take Article 10, which purports to protect our freedom of expression. Of course, the very concept of ‘freedom of expression’ owes its existence to radical liberals like John Stuart Mill and Voltaire, who argued that there can be no exceptions to free speech, otherwise you do not have free speech at all. But human-rights lawyers will tell you that Article 10, along with most other human rights, is a ‘qualified right’ because there is a long list of conditions under which the state can interfere with it. This list includes where it is necessary in the ‘interests of public safety’ or for the ‘protection of health or morals’. Such broad qualifications mean that as a means of limiting state power, ‘qualified’ human rights are all but useless.
Ken at Popehat has a lovely summary of the “all Jews should be sterilized” fracas at York University:
Pity poor Professor Cameron Johnson at York University. He was just trying to make this fundamentally Canadian concept clear to the students in the class he was teaching by giving examples of unacceptable opinions. Really, reminding them that some opinions are unacceptable was, in the Canadian context, an act of great patriotism, akin to starting an American lecture with the Pledge of Allegiance and possibly a barbecue. In the course of being so very Canadian, Prof. Johnson mentioned that the sentiment “all Jews should be sterilized” was “unacceptable.”
[. . .]
By uttering the words, Prof. Johnson committed speechcrime. That’s a strict liability crime; intent is irrelevant. Moreover, in thinking that he could utter a series of offensive words by putting them into a specific disapproving and pedagogical context, Prof. Johnson committed a hate crime against the Moron-Canadian community, which is too stupid to grasp context, and the Entitled-Canadian community, which believes that it is un-Canadian to require them to pay close enough attention to follow context. Prof. Johnson knew or should have known that his class of 450 people would include members of the Moron-Canadian and Entitled-Canadian community.
And indeed it did — in the form of Sarah Grunfeld, a member of the Moron-Insipid-Entitled-Canadian community. Sarah Grunfeld was outraged to hear, sort of, that her professor thought that all Jews should be sterilized, and started quite a stir, complaining to York University officials and various community members. Tumult and inquisition ensued. The Canadian media acted in an appallingly un-Canadian manner, focusing on the so-called “context” of Professor Johnson’s words and the utterly irrelevant detail that he was Jewish. Grunfeld, raised by her actions into a position of leadership in the Entitled-, Insipid-, and Moron-Canadian communities, did her best to set them back on the path of right thinking
Mark Steyn on the rapidly constricting “right” to free speech in most of the western world:
To be honest, I didn’t really think much about “freedom of speech” until I found myself the subject of three “hate speech” complaints in Canada in 2007. I mean I was philosophically in favor of it, and I’d been consistently opposed to the Dominion’s ghastly “human rights” commissions and their equivalents elsewhere my entire adult life, and from time to time when an especially choice example of politically correct enforcement came up I’d whack it around for a column or two.
But I don’t think I really understood how advanced the Left’s assault on this core Western liberty actually was. In 2008, shortly before my writing was put on trial for “flagrant Islamophobia” in British Columbia, several National Review readers e-mailed from the U.S. to query what the big deal was. C’mon, lighten up, what could some “human rights” pseudo-court do? And I replied that the statutory penalty under the British Columbia “Human Rights” Code was that Maclean’s, Canada’s biggest-selling news weekly, and by extension any other publication, would be forbidden henceforth to publish anything by me about Islam, Europe, terrorism, demography, welfare, multiculturalism, and various related subjects. And that this prohibition would last forever, and was deemed to have the force of a supreme-court decision. I would in effect be rendered unpublishable in the land of my birth. [. . .]
And what I found odd about this was that very few other people found it odd at all. Indeed, the Canadian establishment seems to think it entirely natural that the Canadian state should be in the business of lifetime publication bans, just as the Dutch establishment thinks it entirely natural that the Dutch state should put elected leaders of parliamentary opposition parties on trial for their political platforms, and the French establishment thinks it appropriate for the French state to put novelists on trial for sentiments expressed by fictional characters. Across almost all the Western world apart from America, the state grows ever more comfortable with micro-regulating public discourse—and, in fact, not-so-public discourse: Lars Hedegaard, head of the Danish Free Press Society, has been tried, been acquitted, had his acquittal overruled, and been convicted of “racism” for some remarks about Islam’s treatment of women made (so he thought) in private but taped and released to the world.
Richard Warman is suing several Canadian bloggers (among many, many suits he’s launched), including Kathy Shaidle:
As many of you know, I — along with Ezra Levant and others — are already being sued by former Canadian “Human Rights” Commission employee Richard Warman.
Now my husband Arnie — a.k.a. the blogger BlazingCatFur — is also being sued by Warman, also for criticizing his activities at the CHRC.
Warman is suing for $500,000.
Arnie has already spent $10,000 in legal fees. We’ve put off asking for help for more than a year, but we now are coming to you for assistance.
Among the issues in the latest suit is the claim that merely linking to a “far right website” (in this case, SteynOnline) can be considered actionable.
A British member of parliament was investigated by the police after a complaint from a would-be British equivalent to one of our infamous Human Rights Commissions, for an ill-advised comparison of a burkha to a paper bag:
A race equality council was “outrageous” for complaining to police about criticism of the burka in a political debate, an MP said today.
Tory Philip Hollobone said he faced a police investigation after he dubbed the burka “the religious equivalent of going around with a paper bag over your head with two holes for the eyes”.
Northamptonshire Race Equality Council contacted police after the comment made during a parliamentary debate last month.
[. . .]
“There will be those who agree and those who disagree, and that is fine. What we cannot have in this country are MPs being threatened when they speak out on contentious issues.
“The judgment of the Northamptonshire Race Equality Council is quite wrong in speaking to police as they haven’t tried to engage in any debate.
“I have no criticism of the police — the police have behaved impeccably. But I do have huge criticisms of the Northamptonshire Race Equality Council, which is a taxpayer-funded organisation and should not be spending time trying to prosecute members of parliament. Their behaviour is outrageous.”
The fact that he’s an MP only makes this story more news-worthy, but it does illustrate just how circumscribed freedom of speech has become.
Marni Soupcoff hits the nail on the head with this observation:
Do Canadians understand freedom of expression? For several years, I’ve been arguing that the majority of them don’t — that despite freedom of speech’s prominent place in the Charter, they think it means the ability to say critical things provided these things don’t offend or upset anybody. Protest away, as long as you don’t actually rock the boat.
It’s part of that notorious “Canadian nice” thing: we’re so terribly afraid of offending someone that we’ve empowered the state to monitor and “correct” our speech and behaviour. We like the idea of free speech, but we also undercut the spirit by carving out exceptions to ensure that free speech is not free to offend or insult or demean the listener (or bystanders, or people totally unconnected to the conversation).
This is the genesis of our “hate speech” legislation, which legally defines certain kinds of speech as being so harmful that the use must be proscribed. We appear to fear the use of certain words and phrases as much as if they were literal clubs or bludgeons or some other kind of blunt instrument. In other words, we think it worse to hear offensive speech than to be physically threatened with bodily harm.
This is why the University of Ottawa’s François Houle not only felt it necessary to warn Ann Coulter about our draconian speech laws, but almost certainly felt that without such a warning, those laws were likely to be put into motion. The unspoken but hardly concealed subtext is that we recognize that Americans are more mature than Canadians: they can hear those horrible, horrible words without taking damage or harm.
What initially sounds like another example of Canadian smugness turns out to be an example of Canadian inferiority. Again.
Colby Cosh summarizes the results of the Alberta Queen’s Bench decision on the Boisson case:
So how stands freedom of the press in Alberta after Thursday’s Queen’s Bench decision tossing out the Boissoin human-rights panel ruling? Justice E.C. Wilson’s reasons establish two big things, pending some higher-level judicial review of Alberta’s human-rights regime:
1. The Charter of Rights can’t be used willy-nilly by content creators in magazines and newspapers as a shield against tribunal oversight, but
2. The tribunals have to confine themselves strictly to the powers granted them by statute, defer to Charter values, respect the presumption of innocence, and in general act a lot less like a cross between a military junta and a three-ring circus.
In 2002 Red Deer preacher Stephen Boisson had written a sweaty, sulfurous letter about the Great Gay Conspiracy to the local daily paper (pause for ironic smirk: it’s called the Advocate). Among other things, Boisson denounced the spectacle of “men kissing men”, which suggests he may not know his way around the synoptic Gospels too well. In any event, a panel of the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission found him guilty of discrimination-by-the-word, and he was subjected to a fine, prior restraint on his future speech, and a demand for a written apology.
Adam Smith remarked that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation, but he perhaps was speaking just of economical ruin? In culture, things seem to have the ability to change remarkably quickly . . . usually in a ruinous direction. Nick Packwood looks at an interesting — but depressing — phenomenon:
In less than a generation, we have come to an extraordinary pass. Once right thinking progressives lined up to purchase copies of The Satanic Verses — my first edition sits untouched and unread — and death chanting rioters in Bradford and elsewhere were called out for the barbarians they so manifestly demonstrated themselves to be. It was the thin edge of the wedge. 9/11 worked as it was intended by its authors, sending every weakling into a panic, lashing out at the men on the walls lest they provoke another raid from the borderlands.
These days, Salman Rushdie would most likely be charged with something by a Commission for the Promotion of Human Rights and Prevention of Hatred. In Ireland they would cut to the chase and press criminal charges. Under the new regime, all demons may be mocked save the one pretending to be God.
These Weimar conditions are a hot house for growing hatred against the people they are ostensibly meant to protect.