Time was when "human rights" was a truly large and noble idea. I associate the concept with, and its birth out of, some of the great horrors of the past century: the bestial depredations of the Nazis, their 'race science' and death camps, the horrors of unbridled totalitarianism -- under which, the whim of the rulers was sufficient to mutilate, torture and destroy lives, collectively or individually -- send millions to arctic slave camps -- the debasement of internal exile and psychiatric rehabilitation.
More currently, I associate real human rights advocacy with the case of a young Saudi woman, who very recently was repeatedly gang-raped -- and then she -- the victim -- charged and sentenced by a Saudi court to 200 lashes and six months in jail for being in a car with a male not her relative. The sentence, after international protest, was voided --- but that young woman’s case represents a real example of the violation of basic human rights.
What I do not associate with this deep and noble concept is getting ticked off by something you read in a magazine -- or for that matter hear on television -- and then scampering off to a handful -- well, three -- of Canada's proliferate human rights commissions -- seeking to score off the magazine: this is what four Osgoode Hall law students and graduates --- a very definition of the 'marginalized' --- under the banner of the Canadian Islamic Congress have done after reading an excerpt from Mark Steyn's America Alone in Maclean’s. The complainants read the article as “flagrantly islamophobic”.
Maclean’s magazine? Well, we all know what a hotbed of radical bigotry and vile prejudice Maclean’s magazine has been. Go away … for what seems like a century Maclean’s was no more "offensive" (that is the cant term of choice these days) than a down comforter on a cold day and if Mark Steyn's article offended them: so what? Not every article in every magazine of newspaper is meant to be a valentine card addressed to every reader's self-esteem. Maclean’s published a bushel of letters following the article's appearance: some praised it: others scorned it. That's freedom of speech: that's democracy: that's the messy business we call the exchange of ideas and opinions.
But where does the BC Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Canadian Human Rights Commission come into this picture? Has anyone been publicly whipped? Has someone or some group been hauled off to a gulag? Is there a race frenzy sweeping the land?
Why is any human rights commission inserting itself between a magazine, a television show, a newspaper and the readers or viewers? Is every touchy, or agenda-driven sensibility now free to call upon the offices of the state and free of charge -- to them -- not their targets -- to embroil them in "justifying" their right to write and broadcast as they see fit? The Western Standard magazine, during the so-called Danish cartoon crisis got hauled before the Alberta Human Rights Commission for publishing the cartoons that all the world was talking about. The action drained the magazine’s resources -- but it was free to the complainant.
Meantime real human rights violations -- threats of death against Salman Rushdie, riots after the cartoons, death threats against the artists, the persecution of Hirsi Ali, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, neither inspire nor receive human rights investigations.
Maclean’s and its columnists -- especially of late -- are an ornament to Canada's civic space. They should not have to defend themselves for doing what a good magazine does: start debate, express opinion, and stir thought. And most certainly they should not have to abide the threatened censorship of any of Canada's increasingly interfering, state appointed and paradoxically labeled human rights commissions.
Thanks to Rex Murphy for his recent devastating comments condemning the activities of Canada's Human "Rights" Commissions. The content of Maclean's article or the complaints against it to the Human Rights Commission are not relevant to the essential issues.
Any informed individual surely will recognize the similarity of Human Rights Commission proceedings to the classic kangaroo Bolshevik Peoples Courts. I wrote to the Alberta Report years ago when these monstrous institutions were being promoted, declaring that we would need God to help us if they were ever instituted. Of course, consequent to the pervasive corrupt and treasonous nature of party political power politics and the general deliberate educational degradation of an understanding of our long historic struggle to free ourselves from arbitrary and unaccountable power, going back before the Magna Charta in 1215 and henceforth, their establishment was a virtual inevitability.
Anyone who understands the nature of genuine freedom in the Christian sense, as the British best, if not perfectly, defined it and developed constitutional measures to defend it, could not fail to see the transparent intent of such Commissions. They have now become so desperate in their attempts to use their arbitrary powers for blatant political agendas -- which properly should be the subject of popular and protected public debate rather than being imposed by tyrannical censors -- that they have decreed that truth is no defense in their hearings! Truth is no defense! And no usual established rights of defense as in a proper court of law! This is madness and a complete violation of our historic British system of justice under the Common Law.
These Commissions should be abolished outright with a ringing denunciation explaining to all citizens their essential threat to a free and advancing society.
And what have the politicians done to correct this situation? Nothing! It is to their lasting disgrace that they will only act if they think it might adversely affect their political aspirations to ignore it. Considerations of power are supreme. Principles be damned! Nor is it very impressive that the established media has done almost nothing until it has become obvious that this policy of state censorship is backfiring upon them. What about the fate of the procession of defenseless victims who have been abused by these tyrannical and fanatical Commissions since their establishment? Shame again!
But better late than never and I hope that the recent criticisms by yourself and others marks the beginning of the end of these kangaroo courts with their suppression of speech and association in this country. Not only suppression of these but the denial of the right also to hear, to know and to make informed opinions or conclusions -- indeed, to think -- especially feared by the censors.
Whether these Human "Rights" people act with complete hypocrisy or assume arrogantly that they are the repository of all virtue and knowledge, the rest of us being either morons or naturally bent toward every evil, is irrelevant. The bullying has to stop. We must have an open society.
We have plenty of laws to protect persons and property both in criminal and civil courts. We do not need, and cannot afford, to have irresponsible and immature people with fragile egos incapable of sustaining criticism, supported by dictatorial censors, exercising an arbitrary influence over the nature of our society.
Critical examination is the basis for both personal and social development and honest citizens should welcome it. Thank God that I have been criticized during my lifetime. Crimes against others can be justly dealt with for what they objectively are without being defined by subjective, and deceitful so-called anti-"hate" legislation.
I find it difficult to believe that some of the people who promoted this sort of outrage were not fully aware of what they were perpetrating. Now some of them seem to want to "back off" gracefully. I am afraid that this does not wash.
Like an increasing number of others, I have "had it!" If anyone should be hauled into court for reasons relating to speech, it should be those who have conspired to deny freedom of it to their fellow citizens.
Posted by: Wallace Klinck | January 7, 2008 04:55 AM
On 25 May 1998 -- nearly a decade ago -- a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, convened to hear a complaint sworn against Ernst Zundel delivered a written decision that in essence concluded that "Truth is no defense" -- that, in effect, the truth of any material posted on the Zundel website was totally irrelevant in the ruling to be handed down against the old Hitler sympathizer in the course of the hearing. Here's a telling excerpt, which begins with the affirmation that human rights rulings are mostly concerned with effect rather than intent, that:
". . . consistent with a focus on effect rather than intent, it is the effect of the message on the recipient, and ultimately on the person or group vilified, that is the focus of the analysis. The truth in some absolute sense really plays no role. Rather, it is the social context in which the message is delivered and heard which will determine the effect that the communication will have on the listener. It is not the truth or falsity per se that will evoke the emotion but rather how it is understood by the recipient. The objective truth of the statement is ultimately of no consequence if the subjective interpretation, by virtue of tone, social context and medium is one which 'arouses unusually strong and deep-felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification'. Therefore, in our view, whether the message is true or not is immaterial. Whether it is perceived to be true or credible may very well add to its impact, but its actual basis in truth is outside the scope of this inquiry."
Notice that towards the end it is determined that should some statement made by the one accused be perceived to be true this may add more weight to the complainant's case as adjudicated by the tribunal. That said, I note that Rex Murphy, ominously, in the context of that CHRT ruling may himself now be vulnerable to a complaint before one or more Human Rights Commissions based on yesterday's commentary on CBC's The National.
Happy 1984 everyone!
Posted by: Eye Sore | January 4, 2008 03:33 PM
The way "our" free speech works here in Canada goes like this: Those with low or little standing in popular opinion or the media might have their right to free speech denied with little or no fanfare and protest from the general run of opinion makers (i.e. Rex Murphy and other media lions). Ah, but... should some favourite ox of theirs be suddenly gored (in Mr. Murphy's case, one Mark Steyn and, by extension, the Macleans magazine), they'll rend their garments in public and complain bitterly about how those sundry misnamed "human rights" commissions are out to gag EVEN those with far higher standing in popular opinion or media; as though free speech was the exclusive property and sole preserve of media elites. In fact, here in Canada -- which cynics among us sometimes called "Banada" -- that's more or less what it is, or was until now.
Posted by: Orest Slepokura | January 4, 2008 01:18 PM
Where you been media? The HRC and it's provincial tribunals have been ruining Canadians lives for years because something they wrote or said did not meet the ideological bar of the lawyers who act as judge, jury and investigator on these tribunals. If a Canadian breaks the law then charge them and bring them before a judge in a real court where there are rules of evidence and they stand a chance of being found innocent based on the evidence.
This is the same media organization that has sung the praise of Richard Warman for being the chief attack dog of the HRC. Getting closer to home I suppose! When is someone in the media going to ask Mr. Warman about the huge payments he has received (been awarded) for bringing these complaints before his old employer, the CHRC.
Rex, I applaud you for this public insight. I implore you don't drop the ball now, we need good men like you to help us rid our land of these Star Chambers.
Let Free Speech be real in our nation not just a slogan that means nothing and only applies to those who the HRC and Mr. Warman agree with.
Posted by: Jhon | January 4, 2008 01:12 PM