Last Friday, conservative commentator Ezra Levant was hauled before Alberta's Human Rights and Citizenship Commission for publishing the infamous Danish Mohammed cartoons two years ago in the Western Standard.Think of how chilling that is - a slippery slide into some sort of almost Kafkaesque nightmare. Fortunately, Americans have a First Amendment to protect our speech. Canadians, Europeans, and possibly Australians are not so fortunate and now have to answer to the thought police that have become a tool of the Islamicists who want to put straitjackets on any who might say something about the tie between Islam and terror.
Syed Soharwardy, the head of Canada's Islamic Supreme Council, complained that Levant had incited hate against Muslims.
Levant's opening statement was a tour de force as far as punchy defences of free speech go. Apparently viewed almost 200,000 times, it is one of the most-watched clips on YouTube in recent times. It's also on his website, www.ezralevant.com, where he describes the chilling process: "No six-foot brownshirt, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my political thoughts on behalf of the Government of Alberta. And she'll write up a report about it, and recommend that the Government do this or that to me. Just going through checklists, you see ... a limp clerk who was just punching the clock. She had done it dozens of times before and will do it dozens of times again. In a way, that's more terrifying."
It was, said Levant, the epitome of Hannah Arendt's warning against "the banality of evil".
Allowing a state body to investigate it as a speech crime sends a chill down the spine of Western progress. As Levant argued, "Freedom of expression is only meaningful when it trumps other values, such as political sensibilities, or religious dogma, or personal sensitivities. Indeed, Western civilisation's progress in all realms, ranging from science to art, to religion, to feminism, to civil rights for racial minorities and gays, has come about from the free expression of ideas that necessarily offended some earlier order." In short, self-criticism is at the core of the West's progress. The battle of ideas may be no place for the faint-hearted, but it produces exceptional results by thrusting forward the better ideas.Head on over to Ezra Levant's site and read his commentary on his experience being interrogated by the commissioner. You can watch the video of his interrogation. It's chilling stuff.
In the Canadian multicultural zeitgeist, where bland political correctness is preferred, those on the Right tend to get hit more often by ludicrous complaints to human rights commissions. A bunch of law students marched off to a Canadian human rights commission complaining about Maclean's for running an excerpt from Mark Steyn's book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.
Steyn, like Levant, can defend himself. As Steyn wrote on his blog: "I don't want to get off the hook. I want to take the hook and stick it up the collective butt of these thought police." But what about the little guys put through the human rights commission wringer? Failing to complain about the quotidian incidences of oppression by human rights bodies only encourages the egregious examples to occur.
I talked about the chilling effect that human rights complaints have not just on the victims -- e.g. the people and companies named in the complaints, like we were -- but on other media who see what could happen to them if they dare upset thin-skinned whiners. It's similar to the phenomenon of libel chill, except it's worse. Libel chill is when reporters are worried about writing a story for fear of being sued. But that's not much more than a healthy fear -- if a story's facts are true, it's defensible in defamation law. More than that, any would-be plaintiff would have to finance his own lawsuit, be subject to well-known rules of court, and have to pay the costs of any failed nuisance suits. None of those restraints are checks againt "human rights commission chill": truth is not a defence; plaintiffs complain for free; taxpayers pay for the prosecuting lawyers; rules are arbitrary; legal precedents are not applied consistently; and instead of judges, tribunals are stacked with activists, many not even lawyers.If Canadians can't see and then halt this Orwellian bureaucracy they've established, they will reap the whirlwind.
The worst part is that there is no deterrent to spurious complaints -- there is no cost to making false accusations. That's where the "human rights chill" comes in: why would any rational publisher or editor report on sensitive subjects (read: radical Islam) if they knew they would be tagged with a no-win complaint?
That's the point I was making. And after I made it, Officer McGovern said "you're entitled to your opinions, that's for sure."
Well, actually, I'm not, am I? That's the reason I was sitting there. I don't have the right to my opinions, unless she says I do.