Free speech is a basic Canadian value. Indeed, it is one that’s key to any self-respecting, modern democracy.
That is why we welcome the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s dismissal last week of what we considered to be an unsupportable hate-speech complaint against Maclean’s magazine.
The ruling can be viewed as a small but significant victory in the battle against creeping totalitarianism.
The commission ruled an excerpt in the magazine from thought-provoking writer Mark Steyn’s book America Alone, titled “The Future Belongs to Islam,” did not expose Muslims to hatred and contempt after all.
However, freedom of speech remains under attack.
And the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has yet to rule on a similar complaint launched by the Canadian Islamic Congress over the same Steyn piece.
As former B.C. journalist Nigel Hannaford points out in a recent paper for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, free speech in Canada is now policed by two parallel justice systems.
One is the regular court system, which administers the anti-hate provisions of the Criminal Code.
The other consists of a number of federal and provincial human-rights commissions, set up in the ’60s and ’70s to deal swiftly with abuses in the areas of employment and accommodation.
Driven by political agendas, these increasingly quirky commissions have now taken on what is, in effect, a censor’s role.
Hannaford notes that, unlike those accused of hate crimes in a court of law, individuals hauled before human-rights commissions have virtually no defence.
And free speech is significantly endangered by the growing body of “unchallenged precedent that has been accumulated by an agenda-driven HRC system.” Canadians are becoming unsure of what they can and what they can and cannot say, he adds. And debate on key issues of public policy has been chilled.
Hannaford, currently a Calgary Herald columnist, believes the commissions should be shut down and those functions of theirs that remain useful to society be transferred to the regular court system.
Failing that, human-rights codes should be amended to include at the least “common law defences such as truth and fair comment.” Hannaford says it is up to Ottawa to take the lead.
We agree. Human-rights commissions were supposed to protect humans’ rights — not trample all over them.