I heard a lot of that kind of talk during my battles with the Canadian ‘human rights’ commissions a few years ago: of course, we all believe in free speech, but it’s a question of how you ‘strike the balance’, where you ‘draw the line’… which all sounds terribly reasonable and Canadian, and apparently Australian, too. But in reality the point of free speech is for the stuff that’s over the line, and strikingly unbalanced. If free speech is only for polite persons of mild temperament within government-policed parameters, it isn’t free at all. So screw that.
But I don’t really think that many people these days are genuinely interested in ‘striking the balance’; they’ve drawn the line and they’re increasingly unashamed about which side of it they stand. What all the above stories have in common, whether nominally about Israel, gay marriage, climate change, Islam, or even freedom of the press, is that one side has cheerfully swapped that apocryphal Voltaire quote about disagreeing with what you say but defending to the death your right to say it for the pithier Ring Lardner line: ‘“Shut up,” he explained.’
A generation ago, progressive opinion at least felt obliged to pay lip service to the Voltaire shtick. These days, nobody’s asking you to defend yourself to the death: a mildly supportive retweet would do. But even that’s further than most of those in the academy, the arts, the media are prepared to go. As Erin Ching, a student at 60-grand-a-year Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, put it in her college newspaper the other day: ‘What really bothered me is the whole idea that at a liberal arts college we need to be hearing a diversity of opinion.’ Yeah, who needs that? There speaks the voice of a generation: celebrate diversity by enforcing conformity.
Mark Steyn, “The slow death of free speech”, The Spectator, 2014-04-19
November 19, 2014
April 23, 2014
Amy Otto on the attempt to sue McDonald’s because they were handing out “gendered” toys with their Happy Meals:
A recent article in Slate by Antonia Ayres-Brown, a junior in high school, details the valiant feminist struggle she ultimately brought to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against McDonald’s for … discriminating on the basis of sex in the distribution of Happy Meal toys. “Despite our evidence showing that, in our test, McDonald’s employees described the toys in gendered terms more than 79 percent of the time, the commission dismissed our allegations as ‘absurd’ and solely for the purposes of ‘titilation [sic] and sociological experimentation,’” she wrote.
Let’s leave aside the fact that Connecticut has a Commission on Human Rights and note that this girl sincerely believes McDonald’s offering toys described, at times, as being for a girl or for a boy is a human rights violation.
While I admire the girl’s plucky disposition and effort, I do hope one day she learns to channel her energy into productive uses that will advance her cause in positive ways. This could have all been solved by her parents simply encouraging her to ask for the toy she wants. If girls are continually taught that they as individuals have no power to negotiate a situation as simple as “I’d like that toy” without the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights getting involved, I submit that these women are proving the case that they should not be put in positions of leadership or power.
By the author’s own admission,“McDonald’s is estimated to sell more than 1 billion Happy Meals each year.” Yet it does not occur to her that the fast food worker giving a “girl’s” toy to a girl is simply trying to give the customer what she wants in the most expeditious manner possible. This is a company that sells a billion of these things a year and gets them in the hands of their customers as fast as possible.
People do not eat at McDonald’s to get into a gender studies discussion with the teenage kid at the register; they go there to get food fast, hence the term “fast food.” If the author had worked in fast food for any nominal period of time, she might realize that the employee’s main motivation is not to spend any time persecuting women but to make it through his or her shift as painlessly as possible.
February 6, 2014
Being shy can be a handicap for certain kinds of activities. It can prevent you from doing things you might otherwise want to do. Shockingly, however, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal doesn’t think that you should get special treatment just because you’re afraid to be the only guy in a class full of women:
Sexual politics have erupted again in Toronto’s ivory tower as another male student has lost a bid to be excused from a class with women without losing marks, this time because he’s shy.
The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a complaint by University of Toronto student Wongene Daniel Kim, who accused his professor of discriminating against him as a male when she docked him marks for not coming to class because he was too shy to be the only guy.
The second-year health science major arrived at the opening of a Women and Gender Studies course for which he had signed up in the fall of 2012 — “It had spaces left and fit into my timetable” — only to discover a room full of women and nary a man in sight.
“I felt anxiety; I didn’t expect it would be all women and it was a small classroom and about 40 women were sort of sitting in a semicircle and the thought of spending two hours every week sitting there for the next four months was overwhelming,” said Kim, 20, adding he manages a part-time job with women because there are also other men.
However the tribunal ruled his complaint did not warrant a hearing.
“The applicant has not satisfied me that his claimed discomfort in a classroom of women requires accommodation under the (Ontario Human Rights) Code,” wrote adjudicator Mary Truemner. “He admitted that his discomfort is based on his own ‘individual preference’ as a shy person … and stated he thought they (the women) would not be willing to interact with him because of his gender.”
This was “merely speculation as he never gave the class, or the women, a chance,” wrote Truemner, vice-chair of the tribunal.
Kim had no evidence of being “excluded, disadvantaged or treated unequally on the basis of” his gender, she said.
H/T to Joey DeVilla who posted on Facebook, “Way to perpetuate the feckless Asian nerd stereotype, Kim. After all the work I did dispelling it!”.
June 27, 2013
In all the news from the US yesterday, this little civil liberties tidbit got pushed off the front page:
As I write this I am still only being updated by text message on the proceedings in the Senate chamber but I am told Bill C-304 has passed third reading and will receive Royal Assent tonight making it law.
What does this bill do?
There are a number of amendments to the act that help limit abuse but the main one is this:
2. Section 13 of the Act is repealed.
To put it bluntly, the means you can’t take someone through the federal human rights apparatus over hurt feelings via a blog post or a Facebook comment.
Now the bill is passed and will become law but like many acts of Parliament it will not come into force for a year.
Still after a long hard battle to restore free speech in Canada, this is a victory.
March 6, 2013
Colby Cosh: “One sees what fine jokes result when the state tries to make one plus one equal fried chicken”
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.
March 2, 2013
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.
February 28, 2013
“All rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are subject to reasonable limitations”
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.
May 6, 2012
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).
March 5, 2012
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.
September 16, 2011
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
September 7, 2011
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.
October 28, 2010
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.
June 29, 2010
In light of Thursday’s Canada Day celebrations, pointing out that efforts to outlaw hurt feelings is now a regular part of this country’s modus operandi may make me a party-pooper. But waiting for another time won’t make the truth any easier to bear: From human rights commissions to hate crime laws to civil law suits, Canada has made an art of punishing otherwise perfectly legal behaviour simply because it happens to make someone feel bad. We’ve become a nation of petty grievance-hoarders and tip-toers terrified of offending.
The big problem with this state of affairs (besides how generally unbecoming it is)? It’s slowly making us a spiritless, brittle people. The ability to navigate the ups and downs of life — with a particular emphasis on the downs — is what fosters resilience and flexibility.
If you never have to face the consequences of getting cut from a team, or turned down for a job, or insulted by a heartless idiot, you never develop the sense of perspective (or sense of humour) that it takes to be a well-rounded and capable individual who has the confidence to handle defeat. That’s something parents have to teach their kids, and countries have to teach their citizens. Losing hurts, but you can’t expect mom and dad or a human rights commission to shield you from everything but sunshine and roses.
Marni Soupcoff, “Hockey dads need to grow up”, National Post, 2010-06-29
March 23, 2010
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.