Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Freedom of Speech in Canada

Today's article by Mark Steyn from Macleans Magazine examines the difficulties in the creation and enforcement of Human Rights legislation in Canada. (though it applies equally to most democratic states) This is part of a broader and disturbing trend in North America- the proliferation of "Communications" and "Public Relations" experts toiling over the wordings of statements for government officials and corporate entities that has led to a white-washing of meaning in public policy and accuracy of information.

Phrases and speeches are created to win over the audience under the assumption that as a whole we lack the intellect, desire or attention span to probe deeper behind the panoply of writer's tools. In his article, Mark Steyn discusses the faulty logic of Human Rights supporters in their zeal to create a society where no one is offended and no one dare have their sensibilites broached without legal recourse.

Canada stands as a fantastic example of how people of different cultures can work together to build a tolerant and humane society.
I enjoy the cultural traditions of different cultures including my own, but refuse to deify them as objects of worship. In stark contrast to the richenss of diversity is the notion that our right to speak freely should be contricted in various ways to prevent incting violence on others regardless of the validity and objectivity of the words in question. Form over substance is the order of the day for many, and its why some favour censorship of grotesque images on Television or the reporting of suicides in newspapers; exposure may breed replication, and only the state can protect us from copycat actions, not our own good judgement.

Lets be clear: there is a distinction between our rights as human beings, and the "human rights" legislations and policy decisions that emanate from them. The former is inherent in the equality of all human beings, while the latter is a human-construct with good intentions but has failed to prove its ability to protect anyone accpet those with glass jaws.


Please send more complaints

(Otherwise how will our taxpayer-funded hate police manage to keep their cozy sinecure?)

MARK STEYN April 23, 2008 MARK STEYN-->

Last week's letters page included a missive from Jennifer Lynch, Q.C., chief commissioner of the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission, defending her employees from the accusation of "improper investigative techniques" by yours truly. Steyn, she writes, "provides no substantiation for these claims," and then concludes:
"Why is this all important? Because words are important. Steyn would have us believe that words, however hateful, should be given free rein. History has shown us that hateful words sometimes lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes.

That is why Canada and most other democracies have enacted legislation to place reasonable limits on the expression of hatred." "History has shown us that hateful words sometimes lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes."

Commissar Lynch provides, as she would say, "no substantiation for these claims." But then she's a "hate speech" prosecutor and, as we know, Canada's "human rights" procedures aren't subject to tiresome requirements like evidence. Those of us who occupy less exalted positions in the realm might wish to ponder the evidence for her assertions.

It's true that "hurtful actions that undermine freedom" and lead to "unspeakable crimes" usually have some fig leaf of intellectual justification. For example, the ideology first articulated by Karl Marx has led to the deaths of millions of people around the planet on an unprecedented scale. Yet oddly enough, no matter how many folks are murdered in the name of Marxism-Leninism, you're still free to propound its principles at every college in Canada.

Ah, but that's the Good Totalitarianism. What about the Bad Totalitarianism? You know, the one everybody disapproves of: Nazism. Isn't it obvious that in the case of Adolf Hitler, "hateful words" led to "unspeakable crimes"? This argument is offered routinely: if only there'd been "reasonable limits on the expression of hatred" 70 years ago, the Holocaust might have been prevented.
There's just one teensy-weensy problem with it: pre-Nazi Germany had such "reasonable limits." Indeed, the Weimar Republic was a veritable proto-Trudeaupia

As Alan Borovoy, Canada's leading civil libertarian, put it:
"Remarkably, pre-Hitler Germany had laws very much like the Canadian anti-hate law. Moreover, those laws were enforced with some vigour. During the 15 years before Hitler came to power, there were more than 200 prosecutions based on anti-Semitic speech. And, in the opinion of the leading Jewish organization of that era, no more than 10 per cent of the cases were mishandled by the authorities. As subsequent history so painfully testifies, this type of legislation proved ineffectual on the one occasion when there was a real argument for it."

Inevitably, the Nazi party exploited the restrictions on "free speech" in order to boost its appeal. In 1925, the state of Bavaria issued an order banning Adolf Hitler from making any public speeches. The Nazis responded by distributing a drawing of their leader with his mouth gagged and the caption, "Of 2,000 million people in the world, one alone is forbidden to speak in Germany."

The idea that "hate speech" led to the Holocaust is seductive because it's easy: if only we ban hateful speech, then there will be no hateful acts. But, as professor Anuj C. Desai of the University of Wisconsin Law School points out, "Biased speech has been around since history began. As a logical matter, then, it is no more helpful to say that anti-Semitic speech caused the Holocaust than to say organized government caused it, or, for that matter, to say that oxygen caused it. All were necessary ingredients, but all have been present in every historical epoch in every country in the world."

Just so. Indeed, the principal ingredient unique to the pre-Hitler era was the introduction of Jennifer Lynch-type hate-speech laws that supposedly protect vulnerable minorities from "unspeakable acts." You might as well argue that Weimar's "reasonable limits" on free speech led to the Holocaust: after all, while anti-Semitism is "the oldest hatred," it didn't turn genocidal until the "reasonable limits" proponents of the day introduced group-defamation laws to Germany.

Between-wars Europe was awash in prototype hate-crimes legislation. For example, the Versailles Conference required the new postwar states to sign on to the 1919 Minorities Protection Treaty, with its solemn guarantees of non-discrimination. I'm sure Canada's many Jews of Mitteleuropean origin will be happy to testify to what a splendid job that far-sighted legislation did.

The problem the Jews found themselves up against in Germany and elsewhere was not the lack of hate-speech laws but the lack of protection of the common or garden laws — against vandalism and property appropriation and suchlike. One notes, by the way, that property rights are absent from Canada's modish Charter of Rights. The reductio ad Hitlerum is the laziest form of argument, so it's no surprise to find the defenders of the ever-more-intrusive "human rights" enforcers taking refuge in it. But it stands history on its head. Most of us have a vague understanding that Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag in February 1933 as a pretext to "seize" dictatorial powers. But, in fact, he didn't "seize" anything because he didn't need to. He merely invoked Article 48 of the Weimar Republic's constitution, allowing the state, in the interests of the greater good, to set — what's the phrase? — "reasonable limits" on freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom from unlawful search and seizure and surveillance of postal and electronic communications. The Nazis didn't invent a dictatorship out of whole cloth. They merely took advantage of the illiberal provisions of a supposedly liberal constitution.

Almost all those powers the Nazis "seized" the morning after the Reichstag fire, the "human rights" commissions already have. In the name of cracking down on "hate," Canada's "human rights" apparatchiks can enter your premises without a warrant and remove any relevant "document or thing" (as the relevant Ontario legislation puts it) for as long as they want it. And without anybody burning the House of Commons or even the Senate.

As for "freedom of the press," in her now celebrated decision to dismiss the Canadian Islamic Congress complaint against Maclean's, Barbara Hall of the Ontario "Human Rights" Commission acknowledged that she did not have jurisdiction over magazines. So she ruled that, while she didn't have the power to toss us in the clink, she'd certainly like to and we certainly deserve it. Commissar Hall suggested that if my words had appeared on a sign rather than in a magazine article, she would be free to haul my hatemongerin' ass into the dock. So I've now put the offending excerpt from my book on a placard and I'll be in Toronto in the first week of May to drop it off at her office. I look forward to the prosecution. Given that we've already been found guilty, I don't think I've got much to fear from the trial.

Happily, beginning on July 1, under Ontario's "human rights" reforms, Commissar Hall will have far greater powers to initiate prosecutions against all and sundry. Under the new proposals, " 'hate incident' means any act or omission, whether criminal or not, that expresses bias, prejudice, bigotry or contempt toward a vulnerable or disadvantaged community or its members." "Act or omission"? Of course. The act of not acting in an insufficiently non-hateful way can itself be hateful. Whether or not the incident is a non-incident is incidental.

I quote from "Concepts Of Race And Racism And Implications For OHRC Policy" as published on the OHRC website:

"The denial of racism used by so many whites in positions of authority ranging from the supervisor in a work place to the chief of Police and ministers of government must be understood for what it is: an example of White hegemonic power over those considered 'other.' "

Got that? Your denial of racism merely confirms your racism — because simply by being a "White hegemon" (like Barbara Hall or Jennifer Lynch) you wield racist power.

The author, Frances Henry, cites the thinking of "modern neo-Marxist theorists" as if these are serious views that persons of influence in Canada's "human rights" establishment ought to be taking into account, rather than just the latest variant of an ideology that's led to the deaths of millions in Russia, China and everywhere else it's been put into practice. Yet, underneath the blather about "omissions" and "denial" of racism is the bleak acknowledgement that, alas, Canadians just aren't hateful enough to justify the cozy sinecure of taxpayer-funded hate police.

Oh, and again, isn't that kind of a Nazi thing to do? Exaggerate the threat in order to justify government powers to deal with it?
Well, look, the defenders of the present "human rights" regime started this whole free-speech-leads-to-the-Holocaust line. I'm not saying that Canada's thought-crime enforcers are planning to murder millions of people, only that (as Jennifer Lynch might put it) history has shown us that extraordinary government powers in the name of "reasonable limits" often lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes. Whether or not I'm the new ¼hrer and Maclean's is Mein Kampf, Commissars Lynch and Hall are either intentionally inverting the historical record or, to be charitable, simply ignorant. But, if it's the latter, why should they have extraordinary powers to regulate public discourse?

I don't have as low an opinion of Canadians as Barbara Hall and Jennifer Lynch do. I don't believe your liberty is the conditional discretionary gift of hack bureaucrats advised by Marxist theorists. You defeat bad ideas — whether Nazism, Marxism, jihadism, Steynism or Trudeaupian pseudo-"human rights" mumbo-jumbo — in the bracing air and light of day, in vigorous open debate, not in the fetid corridors of power policed by ahistorical nitwits.

It's not a left/right thing. It's not a gay/straight thing. It's not a Jew/Muslim thing. It's not a hateful/nice Canadian thing. It's a free/unfree thing. And the commissars are on the wrong side.

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