Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mark Steyn on the HRCs

In Macleans magazine, Mark Steyn has this column, in which he summarizes some of the most egregious facts about Canada's HRC system. Here are a few excerpts covering things I'm pretty sure I haven't mentioned before, but that make me just as angry as all the other stuff I have talked about.

These commissions were supposedly intended to investigate discrimination in housing and the like, but then came the very poorly drafted Section XIII, which makes it a crime to communicate anything electronically "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt."
As Steyn points out, Canadian courts have tended to interpret "likely" in Section XIII of the Canadian Human Rights Act very broadly. HRCs have ruled that everything from comments on an Internet message board, to a letter-to-the-editor, to telephone recordings can qualify as hate speech under this law.

You might wonder: how in the world does a law like Section XIII get on the books? How in a civilized country does it stay on the books, and not get struck down for being unconstitutional? The answer lies in the Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the first section of which says:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

In Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor (1990), Canada's Supreme Court decided that, while Section XIII does limit freedom of expression, that limitation is justified according to Section 1. The case involved an anti-semitic telephone message service; one could call a certain number and hear a recording of racist filth. Why one would wish to do this, I have no idea, and apparently, neither did the Court. It ruled against Taylor and shut the service down.

In the Keegstra case (also 1990), the constitutionality of a criminal prohibition on hate speech (Section 319 of the criminal code) was directly challenged. Again, the Supreme Court upheld the law in question on Section 1 grounds. Unlike Section XIII, violating Section 319 can result in real jail time (two years, as I recall) instead of civil penalties. At the same time, the court system and not the HRCs enforces 319, which means that those who violate Section 319 can expect at least a modicum of due process.

Sorry for the extended legal discussion. But for those who uphold free speech, while both Section XIII and Section 319 are problematic, Section 1 of the Charter is the real source of difficulty, since it provides legal justification for both.

Steyn doesn't directly confront the problem with Section 1, although I can guess how he feels about it (what's the point of having a constitution if in its first lines it says the government can ignore the document if it feels like it?) Instead, Steyn attacks the way Canada's human rights commissions have enforced Section XIII:

Who has availed themselves of the "human rights" protected by Section XIII? In its entire history, over half of all cases have been brought by a sole "complainant," one Richard Warman. Indeed, Mr. Warman has been a plaintiff on every single Section XIII case before the federal "human rights" star chamber since 2002 — and he's won every one.
And guess what Richard Warman used to do for a living: he was an investigator -- an inquisitor -- for the federal HRC.

This fact probably needs no further elucidation. But think about it: as far as laws go, Section XIII is inherently vague. How it gets defined at any time will have a lot to do with how it's being used, or how the appropriate people and institutions are trying to use it. The HRCs used to investigate discrimination in housing and employment. Now its "investigators" go around hunting for hatred on the Internet (sometimes producing it themselves.)

Obviously, it's in his interest (and the HRCs' interest, more broadly) for Section XIII to have the broadest definition possible. On one end, the HRC's investigators manufacture hatred by trolling the Internet. On the other, they broaden the definition of Section XIII so that more and more expression now counts as hateful. In both cases, the HRC and its inquisitors benefit, and freedom is caught in the pincher.

Can anyone see a problem here? And not just a problem, but an inevitable one. If a non-Muslim can complain about anti-Muslim posts on Free Dominion, then a former HRC investigator, who knows the system better than anyone, can and will complain about anything and everything he can. The HRC mandate and its interpretation of Section XIII will expand.

And free speech -- ha, what's that, but a merely American idea -- will suffer, wither, and die. Meanwhile, idiot Canadians will accept the inevitable, not with regret, but with the self-satisfied grin my old professors had on their faces while they were congratulating themselves on not being Americans.

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