Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Oh Canada!

One of the controversial cases Bindel highlighted was that of Canadian male to female transsexual, Kimberley Nixon, who was rejected as a counsellor by the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter. Nixon then made a formal human rights complaint to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, which ruled life experience as a woman was not a necessary prerequisite to be a counsellor to raped and battered women and ordered the shelter to pay her $7, 500 for hurt feelings. The BC Supreme Court subsequently overturned the decision.

If it sounds ridiculous that's because it is but the Nixon case is in fact the tip of the iceberg. There's something very strange going on in Canada and many of us on this side of the pond don't know anything about it. That's going to change. You're about to find out why so many Canadian bloggers have Free Mark Steyn logos affixed to their blogs.

First some background. In the 60s and 70s human rights commissions (HRCs) were set up in Canada charged with investigating discrimination in housing and employment. Then in 1977 the Human Rights Act was passed which, under section 13, allowed them to hear complaints about material "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt" by reason of race, age, gender, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, etc." It sounds frighteningly well-intentioned, vague and since the commissions are entitled to act against "offensive" speech, likely to conflict with the basic democratic right to freedom of speech. And so they do.

Sure enough, a number of the human rights complaints have been characterised by their frivolousness and - significantly - every section 13 complaint ever referred to the federal human rights tribunal has been upheld. They have an 100% success rate. This may not be unrelated to the fact that Canadian HRCs are are quasi-judicial bodies and not, therefore, bound by the strict standards of procedure to protect defendants as normal courts.

In 2002, an Evangelical pastor, Stephen Boissoin wrote what sounds like a dotty letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate, in which he described the "homosexual agenda" as "wicked". So far so normal and the normal thing to do would be to write a letter of reply pointing out how silly the sentiments in his letter were. But instead an activist made a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission which finally published its decision this June. The tribunal agreed that Boissoin's green ink screed was not a criminal act but ordered him to "cease publishing in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals." I'll emphasise the point so you can see how crazy it was. He was ordered not to express his own dotty opinion even by private email. Boissoin was also ordered not to make "disparaging remarks" about the activist who'd made the complaint about him and witnesses who'd supported the complaint and ordered him to provide the complainant with a written apology for his original letter and told to "request their written apology for the contravention of the Act be published in the Red Deer Advocate" and pay the complainant $5,000. About they only thing it didn't order him to do was stand in a corner with a dunce's hat on. The decision was rightly derided as "Stalinist", by critics. Oh and the Red Deer Advocate ran a thunderous Op-Ed about the entire farce, making clear that it had no intention of publishing an apology by Boissoin even if he were minded to write one.

In February 2006 the Western Standard reprinted the controversial Jyllands Posten cartoons of Mohammed. The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada and the Edmonton Council of Moslem Communities complained and the magazine's co-founder, the ascerbic conservative commentator, Ezra Levant was duly hauled before an HRC. On the same day that Levant appeared before the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission he defiantly republished the cartoons on his website. He delivered an even more defiant speech in his interview with human rights investigator, Shirlene McGovern which has since become a Youtube classic. As it was such a compelling speech it's worth quoting some of it:

"It is my position that the government has no legal or moral authority to interrogate me or anyone else for publishing these words and pictures. That is a violation of my ancient and inalienable freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and in this case, religious freedom and the separation of mosque and state. It is especially perverted that a bureaucracy calling itself the Alberta human rights commission would be the government agency violating my human rights."

Maybe it's because Levant is a well-known public figure and his case became such a cause célèbre that the complaints were later withdrawn and dismissed.

Something similar happened to Mark Steyn, who wrote a controversial article entitled "The Future belongs to Islam" which was published in Maclean's magazine. In 2007 a complaint was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) , charging that the article and the magazine's refusal to allow a rebuttal violated the complainants human rights, with further complaints being filed at the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT). The complaints were eventually dismissed but not before the head of the CHRC, Jennifer Lynch, wrote a prim public letter to the editor of Maclean's which showed that she'd kind of missed the point: "Mr. Steyn would have us believe that words, however hateful, should be given free reign. History has shown us that hateful words sometimes lead to hurtful actions that undermine freedom and have led to unspeakable crimes. That is why Canada and most other democracies have enacted legislation to place reasonable limits on the expression of hatred."
Spot the spelling mistake? It's Lynch's, not mine and somehow very fitting.

Bloggers have also been caught up in this bizarre frenzy of litigation, with five conservative bloggers - Ezra Levant, Free Dominion.ca, Kate McMillan, Jonathan Kay and Kathy Shaidle - all being sued for libel by Richard Warman. Warman, a lawyer who used to work for the CHRC, has been dubbed "Canada's most sensitive man" for his propensity to Section 13 litigation. Apparently, the British Columbia government even had to pass a law protecting public libraries from Warman's litigiousness. Warman says he's fighting hate and it's true that he's targeted a lot of neo-nazis in his time but his critics say he's a menace to civil liberties. According to Ezra Levant, "It’s impossible to criticize section 13 without criticizing Warman, because without Warman, section 13 would have been defunct years ago – almost no-one else in this country of 33 million people uses it." He added: "Warman’s goal is breathtaking in its chutzpah: he wants to muzzle the Canadian conservative Internet." You can read more about it all here.

What's been the net result of all this?

Well, for one thing, it's made Ezra Levant and others into vigorous campaigners for free speech. In July Levant was invited to make a presentation to the U.S. Congress's bi-partisan human rights caucus. It makes for powerful reading. He accuses the Canadian HRCs of prosecuting religious fatwas on the one hand and persecuting believers on the other and points out that Canadian human rights legislation is so sweepingly vague that a documentary about the Holocaust could be against the law, since it could, possibly, cause people to have feelings of contempt for Germans. "This is Canada we’re talking about. Not Iran, not China, not Cuba," he declared. And this is what he urged his audience to do about it:
"Publish annual reports shaming foreign countries for their abuses of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Put Canada on that list, to let our government know what they’re doing isn’t acceptable."

Some may ask why we should care. After all, what does it matter if a few religious fundamentalists and neo-cons get slapped down for their offensive opinions?

Because we should, is the answer. This isn't about a bunch of conservatives bitching about the political-correctness-gone-mad world of tabloid cliche, there are important points of principle at stake here. Fundamentalists, neo-cons and everybody else for that matter are, or should be, entitled to hold and express whatsoever opinions they fancy in any liberal democracy worthy of the name. Definitions of what is or is not offensive are arbitrary and if we cede our free speech rights to the state there's no telling where it will stop. Today it may be the wacky streetcorner preacher who is told to shut up, tomorrow it may the anti-war protester, or the person who holds quaint views about proletarian revolution. It is emphatically not the job of human rights commissions to police speech. That's not what human rights are supposed to be about. The drive to classify pungent opinions as human rights abuses brings the very noble notion of human rights into disrepute while doing precisely nothing to address the very real human rights abuses perpetrated across the globe. Imagine you were some tinpot dictator living a gold-plated lifestyle while imposing a rule of fear on the populace, controlling the press, using the police as private army of thuggish enforcers and intimidating political opponents with long stretches in jail, torture or execution, in other words that you were doing exactly the kind of thing that tinpot dictators do. Hold that thought. Now imagine you were that person and you read about the infantile theatrics of the Canadian HRCs. How you'd laugh. Human rights don't have anything to do with humans or rights, you'd think, they're just a brilliant excuse for censorship. And you know what? You'd be right.

19 Comments:

Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

Nnnngh... nnngh... nghhh.... nope it's no good, I just can't seem to dredge up any righteous indignation on behalf of right-wing reactionaries. Yes, you're right in the abstract - even scumbags should have the right to express their opinions in public. Nevertheless I just can't seem to work myself up about it in the same way as about progressive dissidents who get jailed and tortured by regimes across the world.

11/25/2008 11:48 PM  
Anonymous Fred Z said...

Hey VP, nice comment, very revealing. Please give me your real name so I can complain to a HRC about the right wing scumbag stuff. Hurt my feelings it did. As for the 'progressive' dissidents jailed and tortured I laughed long and hard. There. Are. None.

I know the periods between words thing is old but sometimes it works well, no?

The dissidents being tortured and jailed are Christians and many, many ordinary people fighting 'Progressive' regimes. I expect you have a few 'Che' t-shirts so really, the dissidents are fighting you. Remember how long your side called Mao a progressive? Remember what his regime does to Tibet?

There are indeed many cases of homosexuals being tortured and jailed by disgusting regimes. Those would be the regimes that the evil Bushitler tried to destroy or destabilize. The progressive opposition to most of GWB's work was in the words of a clear-thinking old lefty, "Objectively pro fascist".

So, your comment was great because as for truth, it was a photographic negative.

And don't go fulminating on about what a conservative I am and so evil, because I'm not. A conservative that is. I just despise fascists whatever they call themselves these days, whether the Canadian Human rights Commission or Voltaire's Priest.

11/26/2008 6:40 AM  
Anonymous Elle said...

"Right wing reactionaries" seem more often than not to be the only ones standing up for the pricnciples that separate the West from those midieval nations where actual progressive dissidents face jail, torture, and death. Those smug tyrants who are pleased to call themselves progressive dissidents in the West are those who are most likely to want to silence anyone else who may have and alternative view. Self styled dissidents who hate dissent are merely hypocrits who seek to destroy the free societies in which they dwell.

11/26/2008 7:00 AM  
Blogger USMale said...

RE comment above: Right-wing reactionaries vs progressive dissidents. There's the passion play right there. Craven troglodytes vs Noble Lightworkers. Zzzzzzzz.

The RWR's might have an "abstract" right to freedom. Thanks so much. Thin gruel from the "priest" of Voltaire. You know, the guy who's always quoted as saying, "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death...to the death, mind you...your right to say it."

To steal a phrase from VP: Nnnngh..nnngh..nghh.

11/26/2008 7:24 AM  
Anonymous aelfheld said...

Dear God, can Voltaire's Priest simply not admit that she/he/it has no interest in freedom of speech for others? I'm sure she/he/it would blather on for days about how important it is for he/she/it to bore everyone to death with her/his/its infantile opinions, but others really shouldn't be allowed to express anything contradictory - they might get ideas above their station. There's something disgusting about the penchant of 'progressives' to silence those with the temerity to disagree with their ukases.

I do love the utter non sequitur about 'progressive dissidents'; a total irrelevancy thrown out to establish her/his/its bonafides as one of the bien pensants. Moral superiority on the cheap.

11/26/2008 9:00 AM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

My, a veritable froth of angry online warriors :D

Fred, I'd imagine that even you can manage to see the difference between an overly censorious Human Rights Commission in Canada (which had a Conservative government last time I looked), and the torturing to death of dissidents (Christian or otherwise) in Burma or China. One is a rather politically correct and silly approach to legislation, the other is torture. Different, see?

And yes, I'm still waiting for the angry online "invade everywhere for Human Rights, yeeeha" brigade to call publicly for an invasion of Burma, North Korea or (hey let's do a soft target) Zimbabwe. Yet the call hardly ever seems to come even from these bastions of freedom, let alone from the real neocons who are packing their bags in DC. Why is that? For that matter I have yet to see the same warriors on behalf of the little guy calling for repeals of anti-union legislation.

But of course, I'm the fascist for thinking that they're a bunch of two-bit hypocrites and that they can fight their own battles rather than whingeing about how the left don't go in to bat in their defence.

Your argument is nonsensical, sorry to say.

11/26/2008 12:38 PM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

PS Fred, I'd be interested to know when "my side" called Mao a progressive. Chapter and verse about "my side" please. Both what you think "my side" is, and when it said that about Mao. Assuming of course you're not one of those people who think Barack Obama is Lenin with a better haircut, in which case please don't bore me. ;)

USMale: Voltaire never actually said that. It's one of the most famous fakes in history.

Elle: I think my answers to Fred's rather blunt-edged attack also answer yours, but if you disagree please say so. I promise not to report you to the Canadian HRC...

I always find it amazing when people whose views clearly represent the right-wing establishment seek to portray themselves as persecuted dissidents. It's an enduring and comical feature of US politics, which is really quite endearing.

11/26/2008 12:43 PM  
Blogger laine said...

If you read the pastor Boissoin's actual letter (available on Levant's site) his "dotty views" were mainly concern that gay activist extremists have access to the public school system in a way that other special interest groups do not. Most people are unaware of this.

In BC two married gay activists through a complaint to the Human Rights Commission got the Ministry of Education to agree to let them rewrite the curriculum to be gay friendly. One of their stated plans was to incorporate gay positive messages into the teaching of every subject.

Now if two married evangelical Christians went to the authorities with a similar claim to the gay activists that the school curriculum did not support their lifestyle and therefore discriminated against them, how far do you think they would have gotten?

And Voltaire must be turning over in his grave when Voltaire's Priest takes his name in vain and evinces complete contempt for the principle of free speech as he did above.

He's a Priest all right, for the religion of Leftism which cannot bear to be contradicted. And his logically incoherent last sentence should read...dissidents who get jailed and tortured by progressive regimes (like Cuba, China, North Korea) across the world.

11/26/2008 3:37 PM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

So the "extremists" are two gay people who got married? And now you (not to mention Pastor Mephistopheles) reveal yourselves in your true colours: not Christians but Sadducees.

"But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.'" John 8:7

"Judge not, that you be not judged" Matthew 7:1

I already said that I believe you have the right to say what you like, but don't have the audacity to expect me personally to defend you when you pervert Christianity to the cause of political conservatism, "sister".

11/26/2008 4:52 PM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

Incidentally Maria, take the moderation off already! Free the Comments! You can moderate our conversation but you can't moderate our ideas! :D

11/26/2008 5:06 PM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

Tha's better! OK then, bring it on, chastity pledgers!

11/26/2008 5:18 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Oh no, bowing to popular pressure, it's so unlike me

Ok, moderation is off.

But behave yourself.

I mean it.

11/26/2008 5:18 PM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

Or what? You'll send me to the naughty step? ;-)

11/26/2008 5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"progressive dissidents who get jailed and tortured by regimes across the world"

Name one.

11/26/2008 8:58 PM  
Blogger laine said...

Too bad I have to explain the obvious to the oblivious and say the extremists are not gay people for getting married (though they are certainly not representative of their community are they?) but two gay partners who litigated their way into the public education system to push their particular world view onto other people's captive children when no one else has that privilege.

VP's patronizing tone is not justified on the basis of what he's contributed here in what he imagines to be a world weary witty tone.

11/26/2008 11:13 PM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

"Anonymous" - Aung San Suu Kyi. Want another? I've got loads.

Laine - how exactly is having schools teach a gay friendly (not gay-exclusivist) curriculum a case of anyone "forcing" their worldview on anyone else. I'm not entirely sure what "the gay worldview" is anyway, perhaps you could enlighten me.

11/27/2008 12:54 AM  
Blogger Merseymike said...

Interesting how the religionist so-called left are actually on the right in terms of cultural values. This is the real political divide. reactionary conservatives on one side, progressives on the other. Religionist reactionaries need to be purged from the left, because they act as a cancer within it

11/27/2008 3:45 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Merseymike, not for the first time, it seems to me that what you say is very Manichaean in its dualism, painting a picture of the forces of goodness and progress in eternal conflict with the forces of dark reaction.
I hope you won't mind me pointing this out but this seems to leave out those subtle gradations of grey in the human psyche. There are an awful lot of people who take neither one side nor the other but exist somewhere in the muddy middle. There are some who mainly take one side but sympathise with various aspects of the other. There are others who don't care either way. And one must ask, where does pure indifference figure in your ethical schema? I feel that your rather absolutist position does not answer these questions.
Being absolutely convinced, as you are, of your own rectitude it's but a short step to demanding purges, or as they may be called, witchhunts, on the left of people who do not meet your exacting moral standards. That's always the way with people aflame with the rightness of their cause. But I have a word of caution for you. History teaches us that purges have a way of spiralling out of control. They develop their own momentum and catch many more people in their dragnet than originally intended. All to often, witchhunts destroy the very thing they were supposed to protect.

Voltaire's Priest was as thought-provoking as ever. I have a feeling he meant to refer to the pharisees, not the saducees in his comment. A word on that, if I may. Jesus was famously critical of the pharisees for their hypocrisy and pedantry. He did not, however, dispute their authority or the correctness of their teachings:

Notice what he says in Matthew 22:2: "The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses."

Moses, remember, is the lawgiver. When the scribes and Pharisees teach, they do so with authority.

Jesus adds:

Matthew 22:3 "You must therefore do and observe what they tell you"

The scribes and Pharisees are to be obeyed.

Then and only then does he assail them, not for their *teachings* but for their actions:

"but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practise what they preach."

11/29/2008 4:54 PM  
Blogger Merseymike said...

Oh, there are many things in life which I am indifferent about, Maria, but Vatican plc and its religionist dogmas is not one of them! I tend to regard organised religionism , particularly in its entryist mode, as rather like the BNP. Allowable, but always requiring control and monitoring.

12/04/2008 2:16 PM  

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