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Free speech in Canada

December 23rd, 2007 . by Matt

Like my own country, Australia, Canada does not really have the concept of free speech because certain types of speech are controlled, censored or punished. This article sends chills up my spine because although it is talking about Canada, we have exactly the same organs here, doing exactly the same thing. I have also been threatened with this treatment by a ‘Korean-Australian’ commenter on this blog recently. Read on –

The Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) is taking Maclean’s magazine to a human rights commission. Their crime? Refusing the CIC’s absurd demand that Maclean’s print a five-page letter to the editor in response to an article the CIC didn’t like.

It may shock those who do not follow human-rights law in Canada, but Maclean’s will probably lose.

Forcing editors to publish rambling letters is not a human right in Canada. But that’s not how the CIC worded their complaint, filed with the B.C., Ontario and federal human rights commissions. Maclean’s is “flagrantly Islamophobic” and “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt” according to a CIC statement. “I felt personally victimized,” said Khurrum Awan at the CIC’s recent press conference. All this because Maclean’s dared to run a column discussing the demographic rise of Islam in the West.

It’s a new strategy for the CIC, which in the past has tried unsuccessfully to sue news media it disagreed with — including the National Post — using Canada’s defamation laws. But Canada’s civil courts aren’t the best tool for that sort of bullying. In a defamation lawsuit, the CIC would have to hire its own lawyers, follow the rules of court, and prove that they suffered real damages — and the newspapers would have truth and fair comment as defences. Launching a nuisance suit against Maclean’s would result in an embarrassing loss for the CIC, a court order to pay the magazine’s legal fees, and it would deepen the CIC’s reputation as a group of radicals who don’t understand Canadian values. (Three years ago, Mohamed Elmasry, the CIC’s Egyptian-born president, declared that every adult Jew in Israel is a legitimate target for terrorists).

So civil lawsuits won’t work. Criminal charges are a non-starter, too: Canada’s hate-speech laws are reserved for extreme acts of incitement, and charges can only be laid with the approval of the justice minister. And in criminal court, the accused must be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. No chance there.

That’s why human-rights commissions are the perfect instrument for the CIC. The CIC doesn’t even have to hire a lawyer: Once the complaint has been accepted by the commissions, taxpayers’ dollars and government lawyers are used to pursue the matter. Maclean’s, on the other hand, will have to hire their own lawyers with their own money. Rules of court don’t apply. Normal rules of evidence don’t apply. The commissions are not neutral; they’re filled with activists, many of whom aren’t even lawyers and do not understand the free-speech safeguards contained in our constitution.

And the punishments that these commissions can order are bizarre. Besides fines to the government and payments to complainants, defendants can be forced to “apologize” for having unacceptable political or religious opinions.

An apology might not sound onerous, yet it is far more troubling than a fine. Ordering a person — or a magazine — to say or publish words that they don’t believe is an Orwellian act of thought control. The editor of Maclean’s, Ken Whyte, maintains his magazine is fair. But human rights commissions have the power to order him to publish a confession that he’s a bigot — or, as in one Ontario case, even order someone to study Islam. Even convicted murderers cannot be “ordered” to apologize.

Read the rest by yourself.


3 Responses to “Free speech in Canada”

  1. comment number 1 by: ponta.

    Interesting.
    In Japan, we have a hot discussion whether we should have such organs.

  2. comment number 2 by: ponta.

    Matt & Gerry
    Merry Christmas!!!Enjoy your holiday there!

  3. comment number 3 by: T_K

    I think there’s nothing wrong with organs that specialise in civil rights issues. However, I think the Canadians are shooting themselves in the foot with this idea. However they’re set up, they should work within the legal system, perhaps offering free legal counsel and the like. Making them a separate authority undermines the meaning of rule of law.