Toronto Sun | 23Jun2008 | Peter Worthington

Anyone care about free speech?

The tragedy of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal's case against Mark Steyn and Maclean's magazine over alleged "hate" mongering because of Steyn's views on Islam, is that most people don't give a damn.

Oh, many sympathize with Steyn because the issue seems so silly, but most don't see the destructive effect of hate legislation, or how it threatens our freedom.

Of all the benefits embodied in our county, free speech is -- or should be -- among the most precious. Without the freedom to express opinions on any matter, we cease being a free society. The implications are as simple as that.

The villains in the Steyn case are not Muslims who complained to the HRC that Steyn's writings foster "Islamophobia" and hate. Nor is the Human Rights Commission at fault for hearing the allegations.

At fault is the government of Stephen Harper for not rescinding a law that the Liberals introduced and makes a mockery of both justice and freedom.

Harper is PM with the power to right a wrong. Instead, he's been silent and betrayed his own values.

Steyn's case is replicated in the Human Rights persecution in Alberta of Ezra Levant whose now-defunct magazine, the Western Standard, published the Danish cartoons -- political statements on Islamic terrorism, not religious mockery.

The complainants get a free ride, the defendants have to pay their costs.

Truth is no defence before a Human Rights tribunal. Steyn's accuracy is not at issue, just his opinions. Under hate legislation, opinions are punishable if they offend a particular group.

If you think about it, this is an abomination.

Barbara Hall, Ontario's Human Rights chief commissioner, said she didn't have the authority to deal with Steyn and Maclean's, but that she found his article "xenophobic," "destructive," and "Islmophobic."

There's an unbiased adjudicator!

Apologists who should know better, claim there must be limits on free speech. Oh? Who says so? Who should judge what is acceptable? The way things are now, a human rights tribunal is the arbiter of what is, and what isn't, permissable to say.

Saying what is permissible is not free speech. Those who claim there must be limits to free speech have not thought it out. Yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre is not free speech, but incitement to panic. We have libel laws that curb outrageous accusations, and laws against sedition, intimidation and threatening.

Speaking hurtful opinions that make people or groups uncomfortable, is a hazard of a free society -- and preferable to having free speech stifled.

The consequences of curbing, restricting or punishing free speech are worse than tolerating what we might not like to hear. Free speech is the lesser of evils.

History has proved that curbing free speech is characteristic of tyranny.

Under today's laws, Winston Churchill would have been convicted of hate crimes in the 1930s for his warnings about Hitler and the Nazis.


Commentators might benefit from reading philosophers such as Voltaire and John Stuart Mill who understood that limiting free speech was more dangerous than tolerating it.

In a nutshell, it was Voltaire who said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," and Mill who said ". . . there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it might be considered."

They knew that bad taste, discrimination and offensiveness are not grounds for restricting free speech, but are unavoidable byproducts of the advantages of freedom of speech.