Skip to comments.Free speech held hostage by tribunal
Posted on 06/11/2008 3:27:57 PM PDT by Clive
For five depressing days in a nondescript courtroom in Vancouver last week, one of the most important rights in Canada -- the right to free speech -- was repeatedly kicked in the head.
It was a shocking, demeaning and unsettling spectacle that would be more at home in a totalitarian state than a country that claims to be a liberal democracy. But the attack on Maclean's magazine for daring to publish the Oct. 20, 2006 article, The Future Belongs To Islam, was entirely permissible under British Columbia's human rights laws. It is time those regulations, indeed the nation's human rights regulations, are rewritten. Much depends on this.
The hearing before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal came in direct response to complaints made against Maclean's by two members of the Canadian Islamic Congress. It is obvious that those two individuals, one of whom is congress president Mohamed Elmasry of Waterloo, were sincerely offended by the article in question.
It is equally obvious they were using a system created by democratically elected politicians to seek redress. This system, not the two men's ruffled feelings, is what Canadians should object to.
Over the course of the week, the tribunal panel heard the complainants' lawyer argue that the Maclean's article was inaccurate, that it offended and hurt the feelings of Canadian Muslims and that it incited prejudice against this group. The panel was told, too, that the article was hateful and contemptuous of Muslims.
These are serious complaints. But surely they miss the point about freedom of speech. In one sense, freedom is its own defence and the greatest justification of all for what Maclean's did.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that "everyone has . . . freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.'' The charter does not extend this freedom only to viewpoints that are accurate. And in any case, who are the members of a tribunal panel to determine the truth of a subject as massive as that as the role of militant Islam in the world today? Nor does the charter grant free speech only to those who do not offend, affront or cause anger. If that were the case, the nation's newspapers would be filled with white space and its airwaves silence.
To be sure, free speech for individuals and the media is circumscribed by the laws of defamation, contempt of court and hate speech. But none of those laws has been arrayed against Maclean's. No court of law, which would convict only after proof had been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt, has been asked to consider if the magazine violated Canada's hate-speech laws. No court of law, overseen by a judge and operating on more stringent standards of procedure and admissibility of evidence than a human rights tribunal, has been involved at any time.
Instead it has been left to an administrative, quasi-judicial tribunal, a group of suited bureaucrats, to weigh the right of free speech in a nation of 33 million people against the rights of two complainants who claim, without any compelling evidence, to speak for a large number of Canadian Muslims.
In a free and open society, the kind of society Canada wants and claims to be, citizens have the liberty to discuss important and controversial subjects. In 2008, in the aftermath of attacks launched by Islamic extremists against the United States, Britain and other countries, it is imperative that Canadians learn about and talk about this great global faith and the violent minority who would hijack it. That discussion will be difficult, even rancorous at times.
But if it proceeds, it will lead to greater mutual understanding for all. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is impeding this discussion and the operation of a free press. The powers of this and other such tribunals should be curtailed so that the discussion goes on -- and true free speech in Canada survives.
In 2008, I cannot believe you'd still have to tell people this.
You do if they read one of the Torstar papers.
Sharia law: coming soon to a nation near you. :D
We’re praying for you, Canada.
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