August 01, 2008
Maybe a lesson will be learned from all of this....
Writer was poking his finger in the eyes of Muslims with Maclean's piece
By: Ian Mulgrew - Wednesday, July 2, 2008
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal should pay attention to the decision by its national counterpart to reject a complaint about Maclean's magazine and initiate a study of the hate-speech section of its enabling legislation.
The Canadian Human Rights Commission rightly concluded that writer Mark Steyn was poking his finger in the eyes of Muslims with the October 2006 piece published in the Toronto-based magazine.
It was "obviously calculated to excite and even offend certain readers," the commission acknowledged, but that didn't make it "hate speech."
Maclean's rejoiced, saying the Steyn article was a "worthy piece of commentary on important geopolitical issues, entirely within the bounds of normal journalistic practice."
That's a bit rich. Still, I defy anyone to read the piece - "The Future Belongs to Islam," an excerpt from the right-wing pundit's book, America Alone - and conclude it's anything more than an acerbic diatribe.
In Ontario, the human rights commission refused to hear this complaint as well, but in that case, the agency also sneered at Steyn's work. (His just desserts, I say; that's what free speech is all about.) But at least the Ontario tribunal made the right call.
The Canadian Islamic Congress alleged Steyn's article discriminated and spread hatred against Muslims.
Faisal Joseph, its lawyer, says the congress was disappointed by the Canadian commission's decision, given "the compelling evidence of hate and expert testimony" presented at the B.C. tribunal hearing in Vancouver.
What a crock. The evidence presented at the expensive quasi-judicial exercise here was anything but compelling. It was tough even for the congress to find anyone to come forward to explain how he or she was hurt by the Steyn piece.
In my opinion, the congress has been hiding behind human rights rhetoric to hurl a criminal accusation against Steyn that, if true, should have been before the court, not some quasi-judicial administrative tribunal.
But leaving that aside, its complaint exposed a flaw in the federal and B.C. human rights legislation that appears to allow this kind of attack on free speech.
The federal agency, in response, has initiated a policy review of the hate-speech section of its governing law with a view to swiftly recommending its amendment.
Leading constitutional law expert Richard Moon of the University of Windsor will provide a report as part of that process. He wrote the seminal book, The Constitutional Protection of Freedom of Expression.
He will conduct legal and policy research and analysis, recommending the most appropriate mechanisms for addressing hate messages on the Internet, with specific emphasis on Sec. 13 of the Canadian act and the role of the commission.
His work will include a review of existing statutory and regulatory mechanisms, an examination of the mandates of human rights commissions and tribunals, and a consideration of Canada's international human rights obligations.
Such a study is long overdue. Most of the legislation we're talking about was crafted before the Internet and was aimed at curbing things like offensive telephone messages.
Laws must evolve to meet the changing times and this is one of those situations where the human rights legislation needs to be tweaked.
For some reason, B.C.'s human rights commission doesn't appear to understand any of that.
The national agency realized there was "no reasonable basis in the evidence to warrant the appointment of a tribunal" to listen to the complaint against Maclean's. British Columbia's tribunal went ahead anyway and was globally ridiculed. Worse, we're still waiting for a ruling.
Word is it could take the three panelists months to decide whether Steyn's a witty, annoying polemicist or a racist - and probably much, much longer for the agency to realize no human rights tribunal or commission should be policing editorial decisions of the nation's media.
At least Moon will have his report done by the fall.
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