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February 08, 2008

Simmer down

(A note, right off the top: Obviously, I don't speak for Maclean's in any way, shape or form.)

Jon Kay writes: "Just about every intelligent person in the country — on both sides of the political spectrum — has sided with Levant and Martin. But not Kinsella..."

Actually, Warren Kinsella sides with Ezra Levant to a pretty significant degree:

The problem, here, is that human rights commissions have the power to dismiss frivolous and vexatious complaints speedily - and they haven't been using it. … They needed to establish a reasonable threshold for jurisdiction, and that they didn't do.

And that's what pisses me off the most about this ongoing debate. I'm sure, pace Kay, that there are intelligent people who don't want to carve Section 13(1) out of the Human Rights Act, as Liberal MP Keith Martin has proposed. But there's near consensus among reasonable people that the human rights complaints against Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn shouldn't have gotten even to the preliminary stage they're at. Despite that consensus, Martin has been fairly widely accused of facilitating Canadian Neo-Nazism—including, implicitly, in this frankly disgusting CP story—simply because he proposes a more radical solution to the problem than Kinsella does.

Actually, I'm not sure I've seen Kinsella or Levantsteyn's other opponents really propose a solution to that problem at all. Kinsella, for one, just seems to prefer the status quo because the Criminal Code prohibitions against hate speech are so infrequently used that they "may as well not even exist"—that is, they offer insufficient protection to the Canadians who ostensibly need it. But that's glossing over a different problem, surely. Look at what happens when they do get used. David Ahenakew was found "guilty of wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group to wit people of the Jewish faith," and yet his punishment was a measly $1,000—next to nothing, but even the prosecution was only asking for twice that. Why? So as not to make him a "martyr for bigots and racists," in the words of the judge. That's spectacularly self-defeating even before you consider the guy's now looking down the barrel of yet another trial. I'm quite sure media will be in attendance, and that Stormfront will stand in solidarity.

Of late, I've heard a lot of reasonable members of Team Smart ask, more or less, "can't they all lose?" They see Steyn and Levant as politically objectionable and terribly intemperate adherents to a "war of civilizations" philosophy that's totally foreign to them, as it is to me. And they see Kinsella, as I do, as a talentless, preening bore. Meanwhile, Team Right and Team Left are busy caricaturizing the players involved, the better to cheer for or against them. Ezra's caricature is most notable. He's clearly enjoying himself, after all; ergo, to Team Right, he's a freakin' rock star, while to Team Left he's a big old bully, which is further evidence there's nothing to worry about here. Oh, and given his penchant for libel suits, he's a hypocrite—to Team Left, perhaps the ultimate sin.

It is ironic that a devotee of one brand of speech chill should portray himself as champion against another. But that doesn't make him wrong about the human rights commissions. What are we, in high school? This isn't about personalities, it's not about political team sports, and it doesn't necessarily even have to be about free speech absolutism. For now, it can and should be about simply this: should Canada's human rights commissions accept complaints about the published word, and, given that they do, what effect does that have on free speech as a general concept in Canada?

So, then. The inconvenience Steyn and Levant are being subjected to is not earth-shattering in practice or, assuming their cases are dismissed, even in principle. It isn't "persecution" in any non-Canadian sense. (I will note, however, that should these cases not be dismissed, a great many of Steyn's and Levant's detractors will find themselves marooned up Argument Creek without a paddle.) They didn't need to lawyer up. And they don't need to fly across the continent to show up in person; they could just send a letter. But they shouldn't have to do that either, say their supporters, and however benign the process, it's a ridiculous intrusion and it will have an inevitable if (for now) imperceptible chilling effect on free speech.

I agree. And I agree without even taking the Criminal Code hate speech provisions into account. To me, it simply makes no sense for human rights panels to have jurisdiction over mass publications, and these two cases could scarcely illustrate that better.

When someone is denied a job or an apartment because he's black or gay, it's a question of law. If an HRC finds against an employer or a landlord, it will point to their legally prohibited acts. But those cases are also questions of personal relationships, in which party A has purportedly wronged party B. Mark Steyn simply cannot have wronged Khurrum Awan, Muneeza Sheikh and Naseem Mithoowani in any comparable way, most fundamentally because he didn't even know they existed. He didn't address his actions—in this case, his words—to anyone.

The fact that Section 13 is conceptually different from the rest of the Human Rights Act doesn't make it wrong. But to even consider the complaint in question is to admit it might be upheld—and if it were, where would that leave us? People like Rex Murphy have keyed in on the prima facie absurdity of stately old Maclean's possibly running afoul of hate speech legislation. But I'll go you one better: that "article" that so offended Osgoode Hall's finest was a book excerpt. If the text is harmful in Maclean's, it's harmful everywhere. But there's no conceivable remedy. There's thousands upon thousands of copies of that book all over Canada on bookshelves and in bookstores and public libraries. Canadians would have been free to publish, distribute, sell, buy and read it—but not to excerpt it. It's absurd.

The Western Standard's decision to publish the Mohammed cartoons is similar in some ways—the material in question existed in thousands of different places around the world before Levant decided to reprint it. But in another way, it's even weirder. Consider Levant's justification for running the cartoons: "We're not publishing them for their editorial merits. They're boring cartoons, they're bland. We're not running them because we share their views," he told the CBC (between jabs at the national broadcaster). "We're running them because they're the central fact that caused radical Muslims around the world to riot." Not that he should have had to justify it to anyone, but to me, that's absolutely unimpeachable.

The cartoons were news. This, from the December 14, 2002 edition of the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, was also news:

A respected Saskatchewan Indian leader said Friday Hitler did the right thing when he "fried" six million Jews during the Second World War.

In comments one local Jewish leader described as unfortunate, David Ahenakew, a senator with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), a former chief of the organization and a former chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), said in an interview Friday the Nazi leader was trying to clean up the world during the war.

"The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war," Ahenakew said.

"That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe. That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world. And look what they're doing. They're killing people in Arab countries."

When asked how he could justify the Holocaust, Ahenakew said: "How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate?"

Ahenakew said the Canadian army was trying to liberate the world when it fought in Europe during the Second World War, not liberate Jews. When reminded the Nazis committed genocide against a variety of ethnic and social groups, he said "exactly, they were trying to clean up the world."

"I don't support Hitler. But he cleaned up a hell of a lot of things, didn't he? You would be owned by the Jews right now the world over. Look, a small, little country (Israel) like that and everyone supports them. Who the hell owns many of the banks in the states, many of the corporations? Look at here in Canada. Izzy Asper (chair of CanWest Global, the owner of The StarPhoenix). He controls the media. What the hell does that tell you? That's power. That's f- --ing power."

Ahenakew, who was FSIN chief from 1968-78 and AFN chief from 1982- 85, grew impatient when told non-Jews own media companies, as well.

"The hell with the Jews. I can't stand them. And that's it. I don't want to talk about them."

The Star-Phoenix prints that brand of hate speech and Ahenakew goes on trial. The Western Standard prints the cartoons and it goes on "trial." I'm not saying a human rights commission is the end of the world, or the equivalent of a criminal trial. I'm just saying that makes no bloody sense, and shouldn't happen.

Because I tend towards absolutism on free speech, I have no problem with Martin's motion. Those who wish to keep "hate messages" within the Human Rights Act's purview should probably be focusing on ways to get the HRCs to dismiss these "frivolous and vexatious" complaints—which they admit are a problem—before they get this far. That could have been accomplished without even saying the word "Nazi." But it's a damn sight too late for that.

Posted by Chris Selley at February 8, 2008 06:55 PM

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I surely don't agree with everyone who expresses his views. But freedom of speech, once compromised, is easily curtailed.

The term "human rights" is ripe for abuse. I didn't always feel that way, but I do now. "Human rights" can lead to prosecution for thought crimes and for offending others.

What's next? We're going to have the right not to be offended? How stupid is that!

Posted by: Always On Watch at February 9, 2008 12:38 PM

Why do you say Simmer down?

I had an agent of the Government of British Columbia tell me that his activities are not governed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

These tribunals are similar. The basic rights of assumption of innocence among other things are abrogated.

Laws are written in peace, their full powers tested in conflict.


Posted by: Derek at February 9, 2008 03:14 PM

I am thinking if we met, face to face, we would dislike each other even more. That's my guess.

Anyway. Enjoying our fued. It's a welcome winter diversion, if nothing else.

Yours in Christ,


Posted by: Warren K at February 9, 2008 05:21 PM

I am thinking if we met, face to face, we would dislike each other even more. That's my guess.

Anyway. Enjoying our feud. It's a welcome winter diversion, if nothing else.

Yours in Christ,


PS Sorry for double post. I get excited when I'm near you.

Posted by: Warren K at February 9, 2008 05:22 PM

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Posted by: have pharmacies canadian at February 9, 2008 07:49 PM

"I get excited when I'm near you."

So excited that the liar Kinsella has called those of us who grace your blogroll "some of Canada's most prominent crypto-Nazis."

Having a liar call me - as I am on your blogroll - a secret (as that is the meaning of crypto) Nazi is rather more than a winter diversion. It is a wonderful demonstration that what few marbles the liar started out with have finally left the building.

Posted by: Jay Currie at February 10, 2008 01:14 AM

And they see Kinsella, as I do, as a talentless, preening bore.

Have you met Mr. Kinsella? That guy has great hair.

Posted by: Flea at February 10, 2008 08:45 AM

"Have you met Mr. Kinsella? That guy has great hair."

I've no doubt. The roots are well fertilized.

Posted by: Sean at February 10, 2008 07:22 PM

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