Reining in the human rights commission industry
In recent months, the media have finally begun covering the goings-on of human rights commissions, thanks to separate complaints by different Muslims against Ezra Levant (the former publisher of The Western Standard), Maclean’s magazine and now the Halifax Chronicle-Herald newspaper. It took a complaint against one of their own tribe for journalists to finally wake up to the danger that this country’s federal and provincial human rights commissions present to our essential liberties.
I won’t go into the details of these cases or the problems with how human rights commissions operate — see our February cover story for that information. What I’d rather do now is explain why this battle must be won and why human rights commissions must be, at the very least, reformed.
This month in British Columbia, Maclean’s magazine is defending itself before that province’s human rights tribunal for publishing an excerpt of Mark Steyn’s best-selling book, America Alone. The book and the article warned that there is a clash of civilizations (between the Muslim world and the West) which Europe and Canada could very well lose, in part because of our lousy demographic trajectory, in part due to our lack of unifying cultural values. Steyn quoted European imams and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi saying things to the effect that Europe will one day be Muslim.
One may or may not agree with Steyn. One might accuse him of being overly selective in his quotes and sensationally provocative in the presentation of his alarming thesis. One might even find it irresponsible of Maclean’s to republish a portion of his book. But what right does that give the critics to use the state – for that is what human rights commissions are – to tell a private magazine what it may or may not publish.
The complainants want an article of equal length to run in Maclean’s unedited, rebutting Steyn’s argument. No publication would concede to this and no publication should be made to do so. This is not just a freedom of the press issue, although that is vitally important in a free and just society. Rather, it is a private property issue: does a magazine or newspaper have the right to run its publication in the manner it sees fit?
(The same could be said of, say, a Knights of Columbus hall that refuses to rent its facilities to a lesbian couple or a printer who wants the right to refuse clients because he disagrees with the message of the work he would do or a political party and the messages it chooses to present on its website.)
Although technically, the complaint against Maclean’s is not against the author (Steyn), but the magazine and its editor/publisher Kenneth Whyte (who has shown admirable resolve in the face of this bullying), Mark Steyn has been the public face and effective spokesman of the defendant in this case. He recently wrote that the magazine will probably lose the case, after which the it will probably be required to run an opposing viewpoint and restricted in the future about what it can say about fanatical Islam and jihad. Steyn and Whyte say this is outrageous and it is. If human rights commissions decide they can require a particular magazine to publish a particular story, they can decide that any magazine can be susceptible to similar treatment.
While the complainant against Catholic Insight is not asking for rebuttal privileges, there is nothing to stop some future gay activist from doing so. And why stop at gay rights activists? Why not require Catholic Insight to print articles by atheists espousing godlessness? Why stop at Catholic Insight? The Interim might be required to print commentary by abortionist Henry Morgentaler. But why stop there? The Toronto Star should be made to run columns by businessmen promoting capitalism, by polluters to trash Greenpeace and gang leaders to defend violence in schools.
Isn’t that silly? Yes, it is. But once the principle that human rights commissions can interfere with editorial judgments of newspapers and magazines in some circumstances, why not permit it in all circumstances when an aggrieved group is offended by the material a publication produces?
The answer is simple: some groups are privileged to have the human rights commissions do their bidding and others are not. But that makes them even worse because it puts the HRCs in the position of promoting some causes and views over others, creating a class of permissible, even near-official views, and a class of impermissible and possibly punishable views.
As Ron Gray, leader of the Christian Heritage Party and the target of a federal human rights commission complaint, has said, this is the road to tyranny.
And speaking of tyranny, there is also the issue of human rights commissions operating as official censors, taking certain topics off the table. We have already seen this when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. In recent years, Hugh Owens and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix were punished for running an amateurish advertisement against the sins of homosexual behaviour, while Stephen Boissoin and the Red Deer Advocate were castigated for discussing the homosexual lifestyle – the paper promised to never run another letter to the editor critical of homosexuality and no paper in Alberta can run Boissoin’s letters on the topic.
This censorship goes way beyond the original mandate of human rights commissions to address housing and employment discrimination. They have become Orwellian thought police, punishing those who deviate from politically correct norms.
As Steyn and fellow Maclean’s columnist Andrew Coyne have both said, it is easy to turn a blind eye to the abuses of human rights complaints when it involves some “kook” neo-Nazi or a poor, solitary opponent of the gay agenda. But it’s becoming more difficult to turn away when the rights of “mainstream” journalists and editors are threatened.
That is why people like Ezra Levant and myself are hopeful something can be done to rein in the whole corrupt human rights commission industry. Now that the media is taking notice, the public will realize that these commissions are not benign entities stamping out legitimate hatred, but a clear and present danger to our liberties. Change is at hand. Be patient, but be diligent. And continue to press your MPs on the issue to ensure they stand up for the freedom of Canadians.