Monday, December 28, 2009

The Weakness of Government and The Lack of Desire: There Goes Free Speech

Related Article:

You think not? Well think again. Governments will rather walk an appeasing, diplomatic line than do what is right. The seduction of being in power is so overwhelming, that these publically elected officials would rather not rock the boat, which may have the nasty side-effect of reducing them to ordinary citizens again.

So what is a democratic population to do? Well for starters, you will need to want something bad enough. As one of the commenters, to the below article says, "Canadians have to relearn how to think freely before we can regain the right to speak freely." Indeed, and I can attest to that.

Source: Macleans Magazine

“Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society,” he said in a 1999 interview with Terry O’Neill of BC Report newsmagazine.“ It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff.” He went on to complain about the “bastardization” of the entire concept of rights in modern society.

Of course, that was back when Harper was president of the National Citizens Coalition. Today he’s Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister. And he appears to have lost his fear of totalitarianism.

In an interview this past January with Maclean’s, the Prime Minister was asked what, if anything, he intended to do to halt the encroachment on individual freedom by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in the name of regulating hate speech.

It is an issue of crucial importance to this country and our strongly held traditions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

This magazine understands only too well the dangers involved in putting those rights at risk. Following a 2006 cover story by columnist Mark Steyn titled “Why the future belongs to Islam,” we were visited by a group of law students from the Canadian Islamic Congress. We were given the option of handing over editorial control of our pages for a rebuttal to Steyn’s piece or face a series of human rights complaints. As the first option was anathema to our obligations to our readers, the students launched their complaints.

That we were vindicated in all instances, notwithstanding the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s attempt at an unofficial smear, is beside the point. Under the guise of human rights, the ability of any news organization to produce truthful and reasoned articles was questioned by a variety of government bodies. Scary stuff indeed.

So we asked Harper if he intended to correct this threat to the basic existence of a democratic society.

“The government has no plans to do so,” was his casual reply. “It is a very tricky issue of public policy . . . It’s probably the case that we haven’t got the balance right, but I’m not sure the government today has any answer on what an appropriate balance would be.”

To summarize: the issue of human rights commissions running amok over Canadians’ basic rights and freedoms is something Harper has followed—closely and with obvious passion—for at least a decade. As Prime Minister he admits it is still a problem. And he says he doesn’t have a clue how to fix it.

We do. He should repeal Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

A wave of informed opinion and public sentiment is in agreement that the CHRC and other provincial rights bodies have become a menace to many of the freedoms Canadians consider central to our way of life. Besides, even if we are concerned with the possible proliferation of hate speech, Section 13 is wholly unnecessary.

In 1970 the Criminal Code was amended to outlaw the promotion of genocide and the distribution of hate propaganda. Penalties of fines and jail terms were established, but the rights of the accused were also protected through due process, a need to prove intent and, crucially, the defence of truth.

Parliament later created the Canadian Human Rights Commission to cover a variety of potential discriminatory practices in Canada. Section 13 of the act deals with the transmission of materials “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred.” As this body was intended to be conciliatory and to rely on cease and desist orders for enforcement, its legal standards are set lower than in the Criminal Code; due process is missing, intent is not necessary to prove, and truth is not considered a defence for the accused.

The constitutionality of Section 13 was tested in 1990 in the Supreme Court’s Canada v. Taylor decision. A narrow split decision found that due to the CHRC’s remedial nature, it was not a threat to free speech. A dissenting opinion, however, written by current Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, worried that Section 13 was “too broad and too invasive” and so “intrudes on the fundamental freedom of expression.”

Since then, the scope of the CHRC has grown in many worrisome and unexpected ways. In particular, it can now levy fines and impose other punishments. And the CHRC staff has become fixated on aggressively pursuing Section 13 cases. Approximately 11 per cent of all complaints made to the CHRC are sent to a tribunal for a hearing. The rest are dismissed or settled “out-of-court.” Among Section 13 complaints, however, 68 per cent are sent to tribunal.

4 Opinion(s):

Viking said...

A lot of them are thankfully laughed out of court, as they should be.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree. Perhaps only a minority of cases come before a tribunal, but the issue is that the tribunal is a pseudo-court. It isn't about truth, it is about who takes offence. Due process is distorted, and the standards for evidence (if there are any) are low. The entire cost burden is carried by the defendant. A plaintiff has no consequences.

Anonymous said...

Canadian Islamic Congress? What the hell is this??? But this ridiculous Section 13 law has been condemned as unconstitutional so it shouldn't be too difficult to scrap it. Unless the "political will" isn't there. This is what a combination of a lack of critical thinking and inertia will do to a country.

Anonymous said...

@Dachs. You have assessed it correctly.