Saturday, May 31, 2008

Is there a thesaurus in the house?

I justed watched Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic Party, give a very good speech at the opening of the party's rules committee deliberations on what to do about Michigan and Florida. It was good except for an annoyingly redundant phrase he used 12 times in 10 minutes: "extraordinary". Everything was extraordinary. If there is anyone out there with a spare thesaurus, please send it to Howard with alternatives to extraordinary highlighted.

Intellectually Incurious

There is a big political flap underway in the United States over a book called What Happened. It is a memoir of his days in the Whitehouse by former Press Secretary, Scott McLellan.

McLellan was an associate of George Bush when Bush was the Governor of Texas and he followed him to Washington. He was the second PS and fulfilled that role for a few years until he was replaced. I haven’t learned why he lost the job, but the impression left in the media is that it was not a voluntary departure.

I always chuckled at the name of his replacement, Tony Snow (who has since left the job for health reasons). I thought if gave new meaning to the term “snow job”.

Anyway, McLellan has turned on the Bush administration and made accusations about its rush to war, its ignoring intelligence pointing to another conclusion, and Rove and Scooter Libby outing Valerie Plame. This is hardly news. The public has already heard this stuff and made up its mind about it, so other than the novelty of a Bush insider rebuking him, which also is not news; e.g. Paul O’Neill, Richard Clarke, I cannot see why I would be interested in reading this book and why there is such a firestorm about it.

McLellan did savage Condoleeza Rice in the book, claiming she was too clever by half in hiding in cracks and crevices when the fickle finger of fate pointed around the room. But the media interest is not really focused on what he has to say about her, it is about the other characters in the administration.

The one thing I thought was an excellent example of the practice of his art as a wordsmith was his description of George Bush. He doesn’t call him stupid; he calls him “intellectually incurious”. That is a classic.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Amen to this

Here is an editorial from today's National Post. This man is just so outrageous in so many ways. This is another political feather in his political correctness cap. Were that it were another nail in his political coffin, but the voters in Toronto are pure Grade "A" buttheads at election time.

The Post editorial board: How did a demagogue like David Miller become the mayor of Canada's biggest city?

Posted: May 27, 2008, 3:36 PM by Marni Soupcoff

Let’s see if we have this right. Toronto has a problem with young gang members using smuggled handguns to kill one another in rave clubs and warehouses — and in order to fight this trend, mayor David Miller wants to … take away target pistols from Olympic shooters and close down law-abiding gun clubs.

Mr. Miller’s logic is so bizarre, it’s hard to know where to begin to dismantle it. He either completely misunderstands the causes of crime in his city — or, worse, he is cynically redirecting public anger from criminals to law-abiding gun collectors and target shooters. Whichever the case, Torontonians ought to be outraged.

Brandishing a report from city bureaucrats that claims “up to” 40% of gun crimes in Toronto are committed using firearms stolen from their rightful owners — RCMP and Ontario Provincial Police estimates are closer to just 10% — Mr. Miller said shooting sports are a “hobby … that creates danger to others.”

The mayor’s choice of language is telling: He insisted many of the crime guns used in his city “are stolen from so-called legal owners.” But there is nothing “so-called” about the legal status of rightful owners. They are law-abiding Canadians — unless of course you are a spin-doctoring politician out to demonize them.

As usual, the mayor is too timid to take honest action necessary to curb gun crime, namely beefing up police in neighbourhoods where most of the crimes occur. That might get him labelled “insensitive” or even racist, and that would never do. So instead, Mr. Miller has latched onto gun owners as convenient whipping boys, knowing that in our urbanized culture most voters cannot understand the allure of shooting sports.

In short, Mr. Miller is counting on the public’s ignorance about guns to give his useless proposals the look of a real effort to tackle crime. His recommendations, though, will do nothing to prevent murders, shootings and other gang-related violence. Nor will they prevent the influx of illegal handguns from the United States, which are the weapon of choice in almost all violent Canadian gun crimes.

In Britain, after the tragic elementary school shootings at Dunblane, Scotland in 1996, all private handgun ownership was banned and all handguns confiscated. Even England’s Olympic shooters, for a time, were forced to shuttle across the Channel to France for practice. Since then, though, New Scotland Yard and the Home Office estimate that the inventory of illegal handguns in Britain has expanded by 3 million. Gun crime has nearly doubled. And many cities now have more gun crime than comparable U.S. cities. Police refer to Manchester as Gunchester.

And Britain, remember, is an island — and all its neighbours have tough gun-control laws. If even the UK cannot keep guns out despite a universal prohibition, what chance has a single city such a Toronto, whose criminals have easy land access to the United States and its guns?

Municipal gun control is useless. In cities where handguns are banned or severely restricted — Chicago, Washington D.C., London, Tokyo and others — gun crimes remain common. As they do in Toronto, criminals in these cities merely go underground, or to a neighbouring jurisdiction, and buy an illegal weapon. Only in New York, which implemented much more aggressive policing in the early 1990s, has gun crime fallen significantly.

Instead of following New York’s lead, though, Toronto Mayor David Miller is intent on replicating the failure of Britain. In the process, he threatens the enjoyment of reputable gun hobbyists without any chance his ideas will do a thing to stop shootings in Toronto. Can someone please tell us how this ignorant demagogue became the mayor of Canada’s biggest city?

Gun owners are threatening to fight back and have started a website. Toronto has been agonizing over its serious losses in the last few years in the tourist trade and has spent a lot of money trying to "re-brand" itself and market itself to the United States. The gun-owner lobby is threatening to take out anti-Toronto ads in the U.S. That is a real threat (considering the number of 2nd amendmenters) and if I were a business in Toronto in the tourist industry I would be all over this windbag Miller like white on rice to find a different phoney issue over which he could blow smoke out his ass.

I don't own a gun but I love to see the little people push back against the bullying Toronto city council, led by this self-righteous horse's ass.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Homosexual Marriage

I recently received an e-mail newlsetter from some organization calling itself the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies. I never heard of it before and how it got my e-mail address is a mystery.

A brief perusal of some of its contents revealed very quickly that it is a conservative organization. One of its stories concerned how California is making a mistake in approving homosexual marriage.

It goes on at length citing studies saying how important it is to a child to have a father and a mother. It suggests that this is a "human right". Further, it claims that society is breaking down because the traditional family is breaking down.

I have never understood the argument against gay marriage. If my next door neighbours, Bruce and Bob (fictious scenario), decide to get hitched, how does that impact on me, as heterosexual male, deciding to take a wife and start a family? I cannot see the harm.

If society is really interested in making the traditional family work, then it ought to provide significant tax breaks for family formation, and social supports. Families are breaking down for reasons that have nothing to do with Bruce and Bob exchanging rings.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Barbara Hall Project and the right to hate

The two strongest human emotions are love and hate. These are natural emotions. By natural, I mean we are born with the capacity to feel either of them, or both of them. They are what make us human.

We learn early on from our parents, teachers and our own life experience that love is a positive but often painful force, while hatred can be destructive. Both can instrumental in motivating humans to do extraordinary things.

Our moral training helps us to understand how to channel these forces so that they do not overwhelm us. Some take to this training better than others. In fact, it is probably safe to say that the vast majority of people learn their lessons or our societies would simply not function as social orders.

What is it that we mean when we talk about a basic human right? We mean that as individuals we have a right to our own conscience, however it may be informed, for good or for ill. If my conscience leads me down paths that are destructive, then society provides remedies to protect others from me, in the interests of social order.

These remedies are a curbing of my behaviour. They leave my conscience free to learn what lessons it may from my experiences with these social remedies. In short, I have a right to hate, just not a right to harm somebody with my hate.

What troubles me about the Ontario Human Rights Commission is what I would call the Barbara Hall Project, the change in the OHRC's mandate to one of "education" (or perhaps, more accurately, like the Mao's cultural revolution, re-education), anti-racist advocacy and prosection. Barbara Hall is the head honcho of the OHRC and the BHP is an attempt to use the open-ended powers of a government agency, not just to curb bad behaviour that harms others, but to remake humankind into a hate-free brave new world, to try to excise from conscience the right to hate (like the Gobblers excising the daemons from children in the Golden Compass).

It is not about wielding a shield as much as it is slashing about, hither and thither, with a sword.

Consider the following quotes from a National Post interview with Ms. Hall, April 20, 2008:

"I think that part of freedom of speech is being able to say things and another part of it is being able to be critical of things that are said," she said. "I don't view it as a chill. I view it as responsibility."

According to Ms. Hall, complaints that are frivolous, vexatious or simply doomed to failure make up a "small" portion of the 60,000 inquiries and 2,500 formal complaints her staff process each year.

It is the complaints that are not made that give her more concern.

"I would say that for a province as large and as diverse as Ontario, to have 2,500 formal complaints a year, that that's a very low level," the activist lawyer and former mayor of Toronto said. In the long term she would like to see human rights complaints decrease, but in the interim they "may have to spike."

So what exactly is she trying to convey? There are not enough complaints and they have to go up before they go down. Given the annual population increase in the province of Ontario, which is in the tens of thousands, one might expect that, on a percentage basis, complaints would increase, but never decrease.

May have to spike? How would they spike?

This is not a description of the outcome of demographic increase; it is a prescription for something else. It is not about protecting people from harm, it is about doing harm to people because of their naïve belief that they have a right to their own conscience.

Consider these statements found on the OHRC’s website concerning racism and religion.

On race being a “social construct” rather than a biologically determined expression:

There is no legitimate scientific basis for racial classification. Genetic science now tells us that physical characteristics and genetic profiles correlate more strongly between “races” than among them. It is now recognized that notions of race are primarily centred on social processes that seek to construct differences among groups with the effect of marginalizing some in society.

While biological notions of race have been discredited, the social construction of race remains a potent force in society. The process of social construction of race is termed racialization.

Racialization extends to people in general but also to specific traits and attributes, which are connected in some way to racialized people and are deemed to be “abnormal” and of less worth. Individuals may have prejudices related to various racialized characteristics. In addition to physical features, characteristics of people that are commonly racialized include (inter alia):

· beliefs and practices

With respect to religion, there is apparently a qualified protection:

Religion includes the practices, beliefs and observances that are part of a faith or religion. It does not include personal moral, ethical or political views. Nor does it include religions that promote violence or hate towards others, or that violate criminal law.

If there is any doubt that the BHP is dangerous, a thoughtful comparison of these contradictory notions ought to set that to right. Remember that the BHP is informed by these insightful “philosophical principles”.

Let’s take the viewpoint that radical Islam, and those who promote it and support it, are inferior to the rest of us. Let’s just say we hate them, to keep it short.

According to the OHRC we would be accused of being racist, because we have “racialized” an identifiable group of people on the basis of their “beliefs and practices”. However, since the issue is one of religion and politics and it involves Islamic hatred towards others, and in some cases violence or breach of criminal laws, then it would be permissible to racialize those folks because that is not considered to be religious practice.

Or was the OHRC thinking about the Toronto mosque that last October carried advice on its website telling Muslims that they should avoid participating in the “evil” practices of those who celebrated Halloween and Christmas? Were we who celebrate those festivities being racialized? Is it all right to do that because that would be considered a normal religious practice; i.e. identifying evil and warning the faithful against it? No harm, no foul.

Sometime between now and the June 30 launch of the BHP missile, it would good if the OHRC gave this conundrum more thought and clarified the behaviour to be punished.

As a final thrust, all three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam contain passages that racialize and call for violence or contempt for non-believers, meaning non-believers of their dogma. You don’t have to go further than the holy books to find divinely sanctioned and authoritative racialization, which are taught to millions of people.

Look for the BHP police coming to a pulpit near you -- or not.

Understanding your enemy

I see that President Bush gave a speech in the Middle East during his recent tour, claiming, as if it were a bad thing, that Iran wants to take us back to the Middle Ages. As Dinesh D’Sousa quite rightly pointed out in his book, The Enemy at Home, this might not be a bad thing if viewed from a Muslim perspective.

What we call the Middle Ages are known in the Muslim world as the Golden Age of Islam. In this respect, Iran would like to go back to that glorified past. On the other hand, western civilization wants to escape from that time when ignorance, barbarism and cruelty reigned in Europe.

D’Sousa’s point is that if we keep looking at Islam through our Amero-Eurocentred prism, instead of trying to look at the world, and history, through Muslim lenses, we will never understand the enemy we need to defeat.

This is lesson the forces of good grasped in the Second World War. Allied intelligence knew that Hitler was superstitious and consulted with astrologers, so we used astrologers to consider what advice might be influencing Hitler’s thinking.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is it criminal or is it civil?

I am on board with those who believe that human rights commissions in Canada need reformation. I don’t think I would see them abolished outright, but I would either subject them to many of the fairness rules that are our built into our criminal or civil courts, or remove matters that touch and concern free speech to the courts proper.

The question becomes whether free speech disputes are criminal in nature or more akin to civil issues.

If they are crimes, I am not much persuaded of the unfairness of HRC proceedings by arguments that the complainant gets the government to pay the shot of the prosecution, since that is also what happens in criminal courts. The theory behind it is that a crime is not a crime against a single victim, but is a crime against all of society.

In that sense, an issue involving free speech is a societal one, and not some local tenant/landlord issue, or some one-off employee/employer dispute, conflicts for which HRCs were originally created to resolve. The societal dispute needs to be handled in a more formal and equitable fashion, the way we require in our criminal prosecutions.

The hallmarks of the criminal process are:

• a presumption of innocence on the part of the accused,
• the burden of proof lies with the prosecutor,
• an indictment must be proven beyond reasonable doubt,
• the right to have the case heard by an impartial jury,
• the right to face the accuser and to the right to cross-examine witness for the prosecution,
• the right of the accused to present his/her own evidence and witnesses in rebuttal,
• the requirement to present only evidence that is material and relevant to the charge,
• consideration of the reasonableness or otherwise of the conduct in question, and
• the requirement that the process be conducted by a qualified judge with extensive legal knowledge and prior courtroom experience as a trial lawyer.

One of the essences of a criminal prosecution is that there has to be mens rea on the part of the accused. It is not sufficient to consider only what the accused may have done, but one must also determine the intention of the accused in performing the action.

For example, I may strike somebody with my fist and kill him. Should I be convicted of murder one, murder two, manslaughter, or go free? The result will depend on what the court concludes about my intention. If I struck the person to prevent him from killing another person and that was reasonable conduct in those circumstances, I likely would not be convicted of a crime.

However, there already is a provision in the criminal code for hate speech, one that is not often pursued simply because the foregoing procedural hurdles normally preclude a successful prosecution. And that is probably as it should be since free speech is a fundamental human right in a liberal democracy.

So, why would Parliament set up a counterpart free speech prosecutorial regimen in such a loosey-goosey forum as an HRC?

One answer might be that the law makers think that these offenses equate more with civil issues rather than criminal ones. The HRCs traditionally deal with civil disputes, not criminal ones.

If I don’t hire somebody because, say, he wears a turban, he can either sue me or, in effect, get the HRC to do it for him. I am not a criminal in the Canadian criminal code sense, because my offense is not against society, it is against this individual. My behaviour is proscribed by statute to be sure, but that does not make it a crime, only an actionable civil matter. If the issue goes to a hearing before a human rights tribunal and the members award damages against me, it is not something that is going to show up on a criminal record that would bar me international travel, or prevent me from getting credit, etc. It is a civil penalty, like a court in a tort action awarding damages against me for trespassing or causing a car collision.

It only would fall into a criminal category should I ignore the judgment and it is referred to a court for contempt proceedings. A conviction in that case would be for something different.

However, if free speech disputes are more civil rather than criminal in nature, then it is unfair that the state pay for the prosecution of the defendants. The complainants should have to bear the cost, exactly as they would in a normal civil trial.

Since free speech is such an important issue, all the normal requirements that apply to actions in civil courts should also apply here, many of them the same as the ones listed for the criminal process. The difference, in this instance, is that the burden of proof would shift to the defendant, in accordance with the standards of libel law, and the bar of proof would be “on the balance of probabilities” rather than “beyond reasonable doubt”.

On the defense side, the defendant would have an array of defenses available to him: truth, fair comment, matters of public importance, reasonableness, honest believe, etc. The defendant would also have the right to a jury trial.

Probably the most significant aspect of a civil action is the possibility that the losing side could have the costs of the action awarded against him. This is a sobering consideration for frivolous-minded litigators, and intentionally so.

No matter how this mess eventually sorts itself out, the one flaming flaw that cries out for correction is eliminating the word “likely” from Section 13 to make it clear that there must be some evidence of actual harm. This is far too subjective a standard and is a self-evidently inequitable law.

Addendum: Since publishing the foregoing earlier this morning, I have considered that I am a fence-sitter, and I never like to be accused of that. On balance, I think free speech disputes are between civil litigants and are not the proper subject of criminal law. Free speech means that state has no right to interfere in an individual's expression of his or her conscience. It doesn't mean that if I say something that causes another individual harm, that individual should not have a means to seek redress. The redress should be through our time honoured tort laws in a court of civil jurisdiction, and the state should have no litigious role in that, including funding a litigant.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Free Speech

This is an extraodinary piece of television, at least by Canadian standards. In the present free speech climate of Canada, which is to say the march to its destruction, it is worth reflecting on it. It is an editorial from a jounalist on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann. He flays alive President George Bush for comments he made in a recent interview on another televised forum.

Never mind whether you think Olbermann is right or wrong. What is important is that he that he was able to go on for about 12 minutes in this fashion without the studio being invaded by some police agency and the network going off air temporarily. What is important is that he probably went home without the necessity of a police escort.

Now, no doubt the network and Olbermann received their share of hate e-mail and telephone calls, but that also is an exercise in a right of free expression.

There is a basic respect in the United States for the right of free speech which means that people like Olbermann see nothing inappropriate in describing their national leader and the commander-in-chief of their military forces in the harshest terms, on national television.

Are you paying attention, Avi Lewis?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Authoritarian versus Totalitarian

In my post about the TVO episode with Mark Steyn, commentator "aelfheld" took issue with my assertion that Islam is an authoritarian religion, claiming that, as it recognizes nothing outside of itself, totalitarian would be a more apt description.

I don't agree with that. I think it is very important to be clear in our use of language so that we have proper problem identification. Normally, people spend about 10% of their time identifying a problem and 90% coming up with solutions (e.g. Kyoto Protocol.

To describe a religion as authoritarian is to refer to the requirement of strict obedience to the dogma. Islam demands strict obedience. Other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, do as well. Although, what we find is that people stray from obedience for different reasons in all three of these religions. But that doesn't mean at their historical and purest core they don't demand obedience as the key to entering the kingdom of heaven.

The term totalitarian applies when a religion becomes the operative agency in the administration and policy formation of the state -- when it controls the civil functions of a society. Iran would be an example. This is a theocracy, whereby clerics dictate to the civil authorities the policies and the laws. In Saudi Arabia, the civil authority, the tribe of Saud, having entered into a pact with the Wahhabi sect of Islam, allows the religious authorities free rein in enforcing religious rules.

This is not peculiar to Islam. In the 9th century, Charlemagne created France (and Europe) by entering into a pact with the Vatican and either destroyed or converted the Germanic barbarian tribes to Christianity. All pagan gods were abolished.

In the 15th century, Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain threw out the Islamic Moors, then entered into a pact with the Vatican, commenced the Inquisition, and drove the Jews from Spain in an effort to make the country completely Catholic Christian.

And while our historical evidence is weak, Old Testament accounts from the time of the Jewish kings, Saul, David and Solomon, suggest that the ancient Israelites were no less fanatical about religious purity within the territory of the state's writ.

To speak of a religion as totalitarian without identifying in its relation to the secular power of the state is not accurate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Islamic Lawfare

A very cool synopsis by this very hot lawyer, Brook Goldstein, of the concept of Islamic Lawfare at this site.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Letter to A-G re: Freedom of Speech

This is a copy of an e-mail I sent today to the Attorney-General of Canada. It would be nice if the Conservatives were in front of this issue instead of reacting to a Liberal MP.

Dear Mr. Nicholson:

For some months I have been following the unfolding drama of the human rights complaints against Maclean’s magazine, Ezra Levant and by implication, Mark Steyn.

The guiding case in this matter is a 4 to 3 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, John Ross Taylor et al. v. Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Attorney General of Canada , 1990.

The key weakness in the majority decision is the following Polyanna utterance supporting the court’s opinion that section 13 is a reasonable limit on the free expression guarantee of section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The phrase "hatred or contempt" in the context of s. 13(1) refers only to unusually strong and deep‑felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification and, as long as human rights tribunals continue to be well aware of the purpose of s. 13(1) and pay heed to the ardent and extreme nature of feeling described in that phrase, there is little danger that subjective opinion as to offensiveness will supplant the proper meaning of the section.”

I have read Mr. Steyn’s book, America Alone, an excerpt of which in Maclean’s prompted these human rights complaints. I did not find him expressing “deep-felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification”, unless one were to take exception to the truthful information he provided about the potential of Islam overtaking European societies; in short, if one doesn’t like the fit of the shoe when one tries it on.

We have now been treated to the spectacle of the Ontario Human Rights Commission declining to pursue the complaint but issuing a condemnation of Maclean’s in any event, without calling any evidence. Further, Barbara Hall, head of the OHRC has opined that, with only 2,500 complaints a year, there must be a lot more hatred in Ontario that has be rooted out. My own experience is that Canadians are generally not a hateful people and the thought that someone operating an intrusive government agency with that mindset bothers me. It should bother all of us who believe as I do.

When we look at some of the disgraceful conduct of the Canadian Human Right Commission, apparently relying on pro-active entrapment procedures by employees and ex-employees, and the testimony of one employee that he pays no attention to free speech (the most fundamental of human rights!) because that is some “American concept”, one begins to wonder what HRCs in what country the SCC had in mind when it said “as long as human rights tribunals continue to be well aware of the purpose … and pay heed to the ardent and extreme nature of the feeling described.”

Now, I recognize that these are two different matters; what the HRCs are delving into, and how they do it. But, these are related in the sense that they are evidence of a systemic breakdown in the protection of human rights, specifically free speech, which needs to be addressed.

Some wish to abolish Section 13 altogether. Some wish to abolish Human Rights Commissions. Perhaps there is a compromise option. Why not simply build into Section 13 the normal defenses one would have in a court of law: presumption of innocence, fair commentary on matters of public interest, truthful statements, reasonable belief in the truth of the statements, etc.? I would also be inclined to remove the word “likely” from the qualifications for causing harm. It is far too subjective.

The idea behind HRCs was to give quick and simple redress for discrimination in housing and employment, and there may still be validity to keeping them around for that purpose. However, this business of restriction on free speech and public comment affects a far broader constituency (everybody) and goes to the heart of our liberal democracy. It deserves a better and fairer airing than these “make up the rules as they go along “HRCs are prepared to give it.

Finally, I would urge you to consider the opinion of the dissenting judges in John Ross Taylor. I find their reasoning far more compelling, and, as events are now unfolding, almost prescient.

Friday, May 9, 2008

An unusual Agenda on TVO

I watched the Agenda on TVO with the confrontation between Mark Steyn and three of the Muslim laws students who are calling him Islamophobic. It was an unusual program for this very good public affairs show.

The normal format is for the host, Steve Paikin, to interview the "headliner" for 15 minutes and then adjourn to another part of the studio to moderate a panel discussion that normally does not include the headliner. The headliner in this case was Mark Steyn who used the occasion to bait the students into a face on debate. They were clearly uncomfortable and wanted Paikin's assurance that Steyn wouldn't shout at them.

Bear in mind that these are law students who have entered their articling period which means that within a year or so they will be unleased on the public to be able to represent them in court. One would think they would embrace the opportunity to deal with somebody who would shout at them just to get that experience under their belts.

Most of the program was taken up with their complaints that Macleans magazine would not surrender editorial control so that they could publish a pro-Islam article. One wonders why they would not have just submitted an article to Macleans for publication. If Macleans wouldn't publish it, then they might have a stronger argument. If Macleans did publish it, then I guess their 15 minutes of fame is up.

Two of the students were women. One was born in Canada and one came here as a baby from India. The male had been born in Pakistan and had lived in Britain where he grew up before he emigrated to Canada. All of them were in western dress and had they not said they were Muslims there would be nothing about their appearance that would have tipped you off.

At one point, Paikin offered that if all Muslims were like them Canadians would have no problems. I have no idea what he meant, but as one Canadian I would like to exempt myself from his list. I have problems with them.

In numerous articles Steyn has been calling them "sock puppets" for reasons that escaped me. However, I have since learned that sock puppets are people who are put up to putting out some party line or propaganda. In that sense, I would agree with Steyn's depiction.

What bothered me was that they wanted to talk about the issue of Islamophobic media (specifically Mcleans) but not about Islamophobia itself. Try as he might, and he did try valiantly, Paikin could not steer them on to that discussion. Every time Steyn pointed out that he had simply been reporting the claims religious spokespersons were making for Islam, the students tried to suggest that these people he was quoting were obscure, and irrelevant, like Ayatollah Khomeini. Huh!

What impressed me was their lack of preparation (they came with some idea of a script that they would simply put out without challenge). This is not a good beginning for young lawyers. In law, preparation is everything, and thinking fast on your feet outside the script is essential.

The second thing was, despite the fact that they have come of age and were educated in Canada, specifically in the legal tradition of Canada, they still don't understand the concept of free speech. They think they are entitled to force Mcleans to simply allow them to publish whatever they want, and if they can't get it by bullying Mcleans they will get a government agency to do it for them.

This is so Muslim. If you want to accuse somebody in an Islamic country of offending Islam, you go to an Imam and get him to issue a fatwa against the offender. In effect, the human rights commissions substitute for the Imams and issue the fatwas.

They frequently complained that all Muslims in Canada were tarred with this extremist voice that rises in various parts of the Muslim community that Steyn featured in his book. But at no time did they take the opportunity to point to specific things and say as Canadian Muslims those things were wrong and those people who say them are wrong and are wrong to say them. In short, like nearly all other Muslims, they find themselves incapable of criticizing or taking issue with relious authorities. Islam is an authoritarian religion.

And this is what so-called moderate Muslims who live in western countries are not getting, even though, time and again, writers and journalists have pointed out the absence of forcefull denials of the extremists by the moderates. This was a good opportunity for these Muslims to show that kind of awareness and respond to it, and yet they sat on their hands.

I am continually left with the impression that the only thing Muslims do not want discussed in any public forum is Islam. And anyone who wants to discuss it is an Islamophobe. Unfortunately, mainy mainstream journalists think that bigotry, Islamophobia and critical discussion of Islam are all the same thing, and they aid and abet this silencing of critics.

As Mark Steyn said, from the geopolitical, social, cultural and religious perspective the impact of Islam on western societies is one of the biggest story of the 21st century and these folks don't want us to talk or write about it.

I happened to come across this quotation from George Washington, the first American President:

"If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use for us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led like sheep to the slaughter."

Wise words.

Go to this site if you want to see the hour-long video of the show:

Friday, May 2, 2008

Submission to committee considering the Lord's Prayer

In Ontario, it has been the practice of the legislative assembly to recite the Lord's Prayer prior to engaging in the business of state. The Premier has struck an all-party committee to evaluate whether this practice should be continued and the committee has asked for public submissions. I prepared the following draft submission on behalf of the Canadian Secular Alliance. It will no doubt be tweaked before submission, by the group, but it represents my thoughts on the matter.


May 1, 2008

Submitted by the Canadian Secular Alliance

The Canadian Secular Alliance is an association of people dedicated to the advancement of secularism in public institutions.

We welcome the opportunity to offer this brief submission to the Committee.

1. Need for Prayer

While there may be members of the provincial legislature who are devout followers of religions it is not clear why it is necessary to occupy the time of the legislative sessions reciting scripture, of any sort. Members can pray in their homes, in their cars, on airplanes, in their offices, or wherever, and will no doubt receive precisely the same attention and guidance from the deity or deities, as the case may be, that they would receive by collectively standing, bowing their heads in the chamber and verbalizing holy incantations.

There is no evidence to suggest that harmonized recitation of biblical passages by a multitude grants benefits not otherwise obtainable by individual prayer. There is also no evidence to suggest that the abandonment of this ritual would lead to debates and decisions in the chamber that are less than they should be without divine intervention.

In short, unless the committee can find a reason why the valuable time of those on the public payroll that should be devoted to the interests and welfare of the people of Ontario should instead be spent appealing to deities, the best solution would be to drop the thing entirely.

2. The Lord’s Prayer

This is originally a Jewish prayer that has, by custom, become associated with Christians and is now considered very much a Christian prayer. Cleary, the demographic changes in Ontario in the last 25 years would suggest that Christianity is becoming not “the religion”, but simply one of many. Even with Christianity there is a veritable Babel of differences. There are approximately 31,200 verses in the King James’ version of the Bible, but there are 38,000 Christian sects and denominations differentiating themselves from the others by emphasizing some verses of scripture to the exclusion or in preference to others.

It seems inappropriate to continue a Christian prayer to the exclusion of other religions, and since there are many sects with different creeds and dogmatic viewpoints, it is unlikely that some common prayer will cover all the bases. How could one reconcile polytheistic religions with monotheistic ones, with animists, pagans, wiccans, let alone Satanists and Scientologists?

Trying to appear even-handed in some fashion to all of these religions is a Pandora’s Box, best left out of the legislative chamber.

3. The Manner of Prayer

Collectively praying in a house of worship dedicated to holy and sacred rituals is one thing, but when prayer occurs outside of these places, particularly when reciting the Lord’s Prayer, one needs to consider Matthew 6:6. Matthew says very clearly that public prayer is hypocrisy and that the Lord’s Prayer should be recited in private. So, if the committee decides after all to recommend sustaining the Christian character of the prayer, at least perform it in accordance with Biblical rules and let the members do it in the privacy of their offices.

It is also worth considering, with respect to Christianity, that Jesus prescribed that the faithful should “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.” He reportedly drove the money changers out of the temple to ensure this result. Does it not seem reasonable to observe this separation at Queen’s Park, which majestic as it may be, is not a temple, but is more akin to a money-changing bourse?

If the answer is to recite prayers from different religions in some rotational fashion one might want to consider the rules of those creeds regarding the appropriate manner of prayer: rules regarding the wearing of headgear, ritual washing prior to prayer, the separation of men from women, and praying in kneeling positions with foreheads pressed to the floor.

4. The Non-religious

Always the last to be considered, and when considered, not often with much respect, are the estimated 18% of the population, and growing, that have no interest in religion and would like to see the public prayer in the legislature abandoned because its continuation is a violation of the eminently sensible liberal-democratic rule of separating church and state. You may take it that the CSA speaks for this constituency, one that pays taxes, votes and has equal civil and human rights under the laws of this province and country, just exactly like the most religiously devout.

5. Messages from the people and the courts

It is widely believed that the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party initiative to fund Catholic Separate Schools led to the end of the continuous 42 years of PC government in this province, even though the other political parties signed up for it. The most recent election saw the PCs lose badly once again over proposed policies to mix religion and schools. The courts have outlawed prayer in schools and in municipal councils.

At some point, and this is as good a time as any, members of the legislature might reflect on the clear messages that are being sent from the factories, fields, farms and the courts, and get on board with the broader public view that public space and public institutions ought to be devoted to secular concerns and should not be used for the promotion of religion in any manner.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

America Won, Canada Zero -- Rachel's Law

If you have been following this blog you will know that Canada is very stressed at the moment over the issue of free speech. It is enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, just as it is enshrined in the United States Constitution, as amended. But we pay lip service to it, while Americans actually believe what they say. An attempt by a Saudi billionaire to shut up an American researcher and author, Rachel Ehrenfeld, has now been thwarted by the State of New York. How fitting that the news of this should be disseminated on day in which the old Soviet Union used to celebrate the glories of communism.

The Libel Terrorism Protection Act, also known as RACHEL's LAW, signed by Governor

Albany, NY (May 1, 2008) -- New York State Governor David Paterson yesterday signed the "Libel Terrorism Protection Act" (S.6687/A.9652), which on March 31 passed the state's Assembly and Senate unanimously.

Also known as Rachel's Law, the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) will protect American journalists and authors from foreign lawsuits that infringe on First Amendment rights. The bill also received unprecedented support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

"New Yorkers must be able to speak out on issues of public concern without living in fear that they will be sued outside the United States, under legal standards inconsistent with our First Amendment rights," said Governor Paterson. "This legislation will help ensure of the freedoms enjoyed by New York authors."

Reflecting the New York legislation's importance, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) on April 16 introduced a similar bill, the Freedom of Speech Protection Act (H.R. 5814), in the House of Represenatives.

In Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz, New York State's highest court held that it was unable to protect Dr. Ehrenfeld from a British lawsuit filed by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim Bin Mahfouz. Britain's High Court ordered her to pay over $225,000 in damages and legal fees to Bin Mahfouz, apologize and destroy copies of her books.

Instead, November 2006, Dr. Ehrenfeld sought a U.S. federal court order to protect her constitutional rights. But a New York Court of Appeals ruling with national implications sent legal shockwaves throughout American newsrooms.

The New York court potentially undermined U.S. journalists' ability to expose terrorism's financial and logistical support networks, when it ruled that the court lacks jurisdiction to protect Americans - on U.S. soil - from foreign defamation judgments that contradict the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Rachel's Law declares overseas defamation judgments unenforceable in New York State unless the foreign defamation law provides, in substance and application, the same free speech protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The law gives New York residents and publishers the opportunity to have their day in court.

The bill could not have passed without the expert assistance of Attorney Daniel Kornsein of New York City's Kornstein, Veisz, Wexler & Pollard, LLP. Kornstein represented Dr. Ehrenfeld in Ehrenfeld v. Mahfouz.

Its supporters included First Amendment Attorneys Floyd Abrams, David Siegel, Samuel Adaby, Harvey Silverglate; the New York City Bar Association; PEN; The Authors Guild; New York D.A. Robert M. Morgenthau; Former Secretary of State George Shultz; Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey; State University of New York Counsel Nicholas Rostow; 9/11 Families for a Secure America; The Association of American Publishers; Act for America; Rabbi Aaron Raskin; New York Board of Rabbis President Joseph Potasnik; many other public officials and tens of thousands of concerned New Yorkers and Americans, especially New York business leader Lawrence Kadish and ACD Senior Fellow Alyssa A. Lappen.

"This law will give New York's journalists, authors and press the protection and tools they need to continue to fearlessly expose the truth about terrorism and its enablers, and to maintain New York's place as the free speech capitol of the world," Lancman stated.

"The truth is a critically-important component in the War on Terror," said Senator Skelos. "This important new law will protect American authors and journalists who expose terrorist networks and their financiers."

Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said: "Terrorism and terrorist financing are matters of vital interest to all New Yorkers, in no small part because New York City remains a target of significance for international terrorists. New York authors must have the freedom to investigate, write and publish on terrorism and other matters of public importance, subject only to limitations that are consistent with the U.S. Constitution. This legislation will help to ensure such freedom."

Today, Governor Paterson declared the intention of New York State, the publishing capital of America, to safeguard the First Amendment and its courageous writers.

Rachel's Law marks an important step in Dr. Ehrenfeld's efforts to stop Arab billionaires like Khalid bin Mahfouz from attempting to silence U.S. writers who
expose Saudi terrorist funding and global radical Muslim organizations, including al Qaeda and Hamas.

Rachel's Law --- and your financial support---now make it possible for Dr. Ehrenfeld to return to court for a declaratory judgment against Mahfouz. Your generosity makes possible the continued exposue of financial jihad by courageous investigative journalists and researchers. We are only as strong as our supporters, and your financial assistance is essential to our success.

The American Center for Democracy (ACD) is a tax-deductible, non-profit organization that qualify as exempt organizations under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and Regulations.

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