Monday, January 26, 2015

Free Speech in Canada? Don't Be Silly

As Mark Steyn rightly proclaims in the National Post, "Free speech has to include the right to insult Islam." And Steyn says that as someone who was instrumental in getting rid of Section 13, the notorious censorship provision in our federal "human rights" statute. Unfortunately, as Barbara Amiel pointed out following the recent attacks in Paris, that didn't exactly make speech in Canada any freer:
For my money, the reason we don’t have a slaughter like the one at Charlie Hebdo is because no such magazine would ever be allowed in Canada. We save our Kalashnikovs for murdering free speech. First we had the human rights commissions who literally jackbooted freedom of expression. The case against Maclean’s centred largely on an article of Mark Steyn’s. The Canadian Islamic Congress didn’t like his piece on Islam and filed complaints with the federal as well as two provincial human rights commissions. Steyn’s work was vigorously defended by Maclean’s and Rogers Communications. Maclean’s and Steyn won. But the cost was high.  I speak from experience. When in 2011 I had the one and only column of my 37 years of writing for Maclean’s spiked, it was on Dutch anti-Muslim immigration politician Geert Wilders. I thought it was pretty milquetoast writing since I was automatically self-censoring and pulling my punches but I really couldn’t blame Maclean’s.  They were suffering from battle fatigue: nothing is more enervating and time-consuming than filling out the endless details and forms that human-rights complaints require. Not to mention the legal fees. “You’d win,” said one of my editors. “We know that. But we just can’t go there again.” In my view there is no media outlet in Canada brave enough to allow a full and proper discussion of Islam. 
After the imbroglio with Steyn, Prime Minister Harper gutted the HRC ability to monitor free speech.  The issue went by default to the Supreme Court—an inhospitable terrain for freedom. The jurists took on a case involving flyers written about a cow almost as sacred as Islam, namely homosexuality. The flyers written by “Christian Trust Activist” William Whatcott wanted to bring “sodomites” to Christ for redemption but not into classrooms as teachers on human sexuality. The unanimous judgment of Canada’s Supreme Court (overturning the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that had allowed the flyers) should have been reprinted in its entirety in a Canadian satirical magazine with cartoons of our jurists were such a magazine allowed in Canada, which, according to the Supremes’ decision, it would not. Yes, we have free speech, said the Supremes citing the Charter of Rights but that doesn’t mean we can say anything we like because free speech may be hate speech or at least hateful to some group. But a guarantee of free speech is not divisible. You can’t guarantee “some free speech” any more than you can be “a little bit” pregnant.
Amiel is scathing on the subject of our state broadcaster and its craven refusal to show the Charlie Hebdo 'toons:
As George Jonas pointed out in a 2013 column, human beings find a way of rationalizing their behaviour so that they can claim they are refraining from publishing or saying something not out of fear but because they don’t wish to offend. They convert the base notion of being scared into a noble weapon of seeing someone else’s point of view. In fact, this is one of the most insidious aspects of terrorism: we wash our brains and convert our fear into understanding. Example: the awful spot CBC put news host Evan Solomon in when reporting the Paris murders. He was given the job of reading CBC’s rationalization to explain why, although the motive for the Paris murders were Charlie’s cartoons of Muhammad and Islamists, the CBC would not show the cartoons in reporting the story. I didn’t tape his explanation, fascinated as I was by its maze of clauses, but the phrase “not to offend” made a cameo appearance. 
I would have had more respect for the Ceeb had it told the truth: "We have decided not to show you the cartoons because we're too afraid of being targeted by the jihadis."
In other words: a simple iteration of the facts, no maze of clauses required.

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