Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Max Fawcett: A Dissenting Voice in the Hubbub About Human Rights Commissions

Not in complete agreement with him, but he makes some helpful points:

Canadians, unlike Americans, have no such thing as unencumbered rights, be it to speech, movement, maple dip donuts, or anything else. Our rights, each and every one of them, are subject to limitation under section one of the Charter, provided that the limitation of one right is required to safeguard another. Meanwhile, the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn a libel conviction against outspoken BC radio broadcaster Rafe Mair demonstrated that creeping censorship of the media is not a real concern for Canadians. Arguments against the existence of human rights commissions on these grounds are therefore either wilfully ignorant of the contents of the Charter or, more probably, deliberately obfuscatory.

I've found myself persuaded, by critics well to the right of me, that there is indeed much to worry about in the trespasses of human rights tribunals upon free-speech rights. But it's their often shrill tone that bothers me. It's the right-wing equivalent of those preposterously overcaffeinated "George Bush is a fascist" howlers one so often hears from the left.

Also noticeable by its absence in Canada's free-speech rumpus is any tangible solidarity with writers and journalists who really are suffering under the jackboot of authoritarian regimes.

As in Iran, where 11 of the 12 journalists currently behind bars are from the Kurdish, Azeri or Arab minorities, yet when Ahmedinejad visits the United States, he's the toast of "liberal" journalists, and embraced by the "peace" movement, and openly defended in the left-wing press.

As in China, where the financial weekly China Business Post has just been shuttered for three months for the crime of having printed an article about the Agricultural Bank of China, and where the Propaganda Department continues its prohibition on reporting developments in China's toxic milk scandal.

When Ezra Levant's MoToons got him into (and quickly out of) a bit of trouble, you couldn't move for bumping into alarums about Muslims bent on suppressing debate in Canada, and yet one never heard about the persecution of dozens of brave Muslim journalists around the world who printed the allegedly offensive cartoons, and who risked real-world consequences for doing so.

As in Rafika Tagi and Samira Sadagatogli who were jailed, and as in the 13 newspapers and magazines shut down for publishing the cartoons in Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Indonesia and Malaysia. To say nothing of the cases of Mohammed al-Asadi, Abdulkarim Sabra, and Yehiya al-Abed.

Meanwhile, in today's Guardian, Jo Glanville notices: Respect for religion now makes censorship the norm.


Blogger Craig said...

Two points:
1) While it's true that (alas) our constitutional rights are subject to limitations, this doesn't mean that section 13 or its provincial equivalents meets that test.
2) Apart from their assault on free speech, the other alarming aspect of the HRCs is their utter lack of due process. It's one thing to be prosecuted for 'hate' speech. Add to that the fact that you have to pay all your own costs while your accuser doesn't. Not to mention that truth is not a defence (merely a subjective 'likely' to harm standard). And that (see the Steyn trial) there appears to be no standard governing what evidence can be admitted (the CIC was using American websites!). All of this (along with the recent Mair case) makes it likely that if given the chance the SCC will reverse the Taylor decision.
3) OK, one more point. I am puzzled as to why the existence of more grievous oppression elsewhere should mitigate our concern about the HRCs. Surely the fact that we can actually do something about these domestic busybodies is a reason to, well, do something about them (my ability to help Iranian dissidents is, alas, limited).

11:03 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

"I am puzzled as to why the existence of more grievous oppression elsewhere should mitigate our concern about the HRCs."

It shouldn't, but it would also be wrong to imagine that we are powerless in those more grievous circumstances abroad. If we were powerless, organizations like PEN and RSF wouldn't exist.

7:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the issue is less that we don't have the freedom, as it is a concern that we will not have freedom in the future.

We are most certainly not powerless in Canada. Recent HRC decisions to drop more...controversial investigations shows that they are still subject to public opinion, if only because public opinion still has the potential to move the government over the HRC's into action and reform.

But I think it is the willful denial and ignorance on our government's part on this issue that has people worried just as much as anything. I think they're getting worried that our voices are not being heard, and that the divide between the people and the government in our representative democracy is widening.

12:46 PM  

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