...Other commentators have invoked the free-speech argument, in its various formulations – free speech is so precious that even hate speech should not be censored. Or hate speech may be curbed but only through the Criminal Code. Or hate speech is best dealt with under human rights statutes, which should be tightened to allow only "vexatious" cases, not "frivolous" ones.
But freedom of speech is not absolute. "Except for the U.S., virtually every Western democracy has laws against hate," notes Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "Our anti-hate laws are probably the most underused."
The Supreme Court has upheld those laws. Jewish, gay and other groups have long advocated their use. Few Canadians complained. But now that Muslims are, many are.
"That's really what it's about," Farber told me. "When non-Muslims were using it, nobody really cared.
"People need scapegoats. It used to be Jews. Now it's Muslims, to a great extent. Tomorrow, it may be Bahais or somebody else ...
"People should focus on the law, not on those using it. If the complaint is frivolous, the system will deal with it."
Barbara Hall, chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, has offered a similarly clear-headed view.
Even while refusing to hear the Maclean's case – because her commission, unlike the one in B.C., does not have the jurisdiction to hear cases against the media – she used her "broader mandate to promote and advance respect for human rights" to speak out:
"Islamophobia is a form of racism ... Since September 2001, Islamophobic attitudes are becoming more prevalent and Muslims are increasingly the target of intolerance ...
"The Maclean's article, and others like it, are examples of this. By portraying Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics, including being a threat to `the West,' this explicit expression of Islamophobia further perpetuates and promotes prejudice toward Muslims and others."
Her statement, posted on the commission's website, is worth reading. So is a blog by John Miller, professor of journalism at Ryerson University: thejournalismdoctor.ca/.
He calls the Maclean's article "xenophobic," and says it's riddled with errors. He ridicules the Canadian Association of Journalists for its knee-jerk defence, given that the article may have violated the association's own guidelines for fairness, accuracy, access and anti-discrimination.
It's fascinating to reread this piece in light of last week's events in Paris. I'd like to think that, what with the mass rally in that city today (as well as in other Western cities, including Toronto), there is a greater awareness of what's at stake here, and that the "free speech is not a license to target vulnerable groups" palaver will be seen for what it really is: political correctness (pushed by well-meaning if utterly clueless/usefully idiotic leftists) and a desire to allow sharia ideas re "blasphemy" to prevail and thereby subvert Western democracies (pushed by those with a supremacist agenda).People will always differ on what constitutes hate or where to draw the line on free speech. But most people would agree that free speech is not a licence to target vulnerable groups, let alone risk rupturing the common good in Canada.
I hope more people are awake these days. I highly doubt, however, that any of the infidels mentioned above number among them.
Update: Who's really in danger? Not Islam, the Jews