Canadian Human Rights Commission Under Fire over Free Speech

Certain Muslim groups in Canada appear to be doing everything they can to ensure that their enemies enjoy publicity and sympathy, by going after them on inquisitorial “hate speech” charges brought through the Human Rights Commission. The Economist reports:

The criminal code has hate-propaganda provisions, but using these requires convincing a prosecutor. The bar is much lower for Human Rights Commissions and their tribunals. These were set up to deal with discrimination on grounds such as race or sex in jobs, housing or services. Even the man who inspired them, Alan Borovoy, a civil-liberties lawyer, is dismayed at their misuse to limit free speech. The tribunals can only levy small fines and give an order to desist. But the proceedings involve steep costs for defendants, whereas plaintiffs pay nothing if the commission decides there are grounds to proceed.

The Economist notes the case of Mark Steyn, the rightwing US columnist who recently had a typically alarmist “Muslims want to take over the world” piece published in a Canadian magazine, leading to a complaint from the Canadian Islamic Congress. There have been a number of other cases resulting in finings, and even criticising the process can get you into trouble: there was recently a court decision confirming that the description by Paul Fromm (a member of the Canadian far right) of an HRC lawyer as an “enemy of free speech” and as a waste of tax money amounted to defamation.

Also now making waves is the case of Ezra Levant, a right-libertarian called to account by the HRC for reprinting the Danish Muhammad cartoons in his now-defunct Western Standard magazine. Levant’s appearance at the HRC was videoed, and is now available at YouTube, in a number of segments. Here’s the first:

Levant is known for his strong support of some kinds of free speech, as was seen in December:

A protest planned for Friday afternoon in Calgary to condemn alleged violent and racist postings has been cancelled after an apology from the Western Standard magazine.

The comments appeared on the Shotgun Blog of the Western Standard website.

The entry, dated Dec. 5 and written by a user calling himself ‘Templar,’ said, “there is no such thing as innocent Muslims.”

Templar went on to write, “They must all be killed. All of them.”

…Levant, who no longer owns the website or the Western Standard name, said he doesn’t personally agree with the comments, but argued they should be protected as free speech.

However, according to conservative Canadian website Dust My Broom, he takes a rather different tack when it comes to other forms of expression; in particular, public criticism from former employees:

One of the articles of interest in Fast Forward Weekly was titled Lowering the Standard – Ezra Levant’s controversial right-wing mag is gone. Will anyone miss it? (October 25th, 2007). Read it then come back.

A week later a letter was written to Fast Forward Weekly by a former employee… Apparently Ezra contacted the rag to get an apology and retraction for the article and the published letter, didn’t get it and is now suing Fast Forward Weekly for the Lowering the standard article and letter writer [Merle] Terlesky for a combined total of $100,000 for libel.

Dust My Broom had republished the letter, but then removed it, fearing liability. I’ve read it via Google cache; it contains general criticisms about how Levant ran the magazine which look to me to be within the reasonable cut-and-thrust of fair comment. Of course, this response is not surprising: Saudi businessmen, Russian oligarchs, and right-libertarians are united in their fondness for using aggressive libel threats to squash critical scrutiny. I can think of a couple of right-libertarian examples from the UK; the name Paul Staines comes to mind.