Allowing Too Many Rights Ends Up Making a Wrong

Commentary, Frontier Centre, Role of Government, Worth A Look

It was one of those rare, particularly sunny days in Vancouver in September when, addressing an audience at the University of British Columbia, I suggested that official multiculturalism and its partner in crime, moral relativism, were leading to the demise of Western values.

“But you must understand,” implored a well-intentioned woman in the audience, “multiculturalism is Canada’s gift to the world.”

If Australia is set to follow Canada, then thanks, but no thanks. Call me ungrateful, but we should have returned the gift to Canada long ago. I say that as someone who has long adored Canada.

I’m back in Canada and the distinct chill is not just in the air. 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. 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. Avideo of his speech has been viewed more than 320,000 times and is one of the mostwatched clips on YouTube in recent times.

It’s also on his website — — where he describes the chilling process: “No six-foot brown shirt, 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.”

Refreshingly, Alan Borovoy, general counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the chap who helped found these commissions in the 1960s and ’70s, was equally appalled. Writing in the Calgary Herald, he said “during the years when my colleagues and I were labouring to create such commissions, we never imagined that they might ultimately be used against freedom of speech.”

Pointing to the empire-building frolic of the commissions, Borovoy advised that the legislation needed to be changed to make it clear that these commissions had no business investigating and making edicts about thought crimes.

Canada shows where Australia will end up in due time: With a system of governance where large swaths of social policy have been delegated by parliament to the unelected grey bureaucrats, who get to implement “progressive” policies that could never get through a body of elected politicians.

As the jurisdiction of these commissions expands into areas never originally intended, fundamental freedoms contract. When state bodies start enforcing the religious prohibitions of Muslims it destroys a few fundamental Western values, namely the separation of mosque and state and, more critically, the freedom of speech.

As Levant argued, “Western civilization’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.

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.

So, we need to watch Canada. As it goes, so will we. And even if you can stomach the idea of handing power over social policy to unelected bureaucrats and self-opinionated lawyers, you might like to hang on to free speech. Oh Canada, where are you taking us?

Janet Albrectsen is a columnist with the Australian Newspaper in Sydney.