Saturday, October 11, 2008

Editorial on free speech worth reproducing

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has concluded that the excerpt from Mark Steyn's book, America Alone, reproduced in a Maclean's Magazine article did not violate human rights legislation in the province; i.e., it was not hate speech. The editorial in today's National Post about this case is worth reading:

Freedom of speech does not include the right to have one's views published or broadcast. Nor does freedom of the press carry with it an obligation to give space to views opposed to those held by the press' owners or their editors.

Indeed, the only way that a right to have one's views aired could exist is if the government restricted the freedom of the press, forcing media outlets to publish or broadcast material that was deemed otherwise unworthy.

In other words, such a "right" would exist only if the state assumed the power to regulate public discourse, which would be anathema to our democratic ideals.

Apparently, Khurrum Awan doesn't have much respect for those ideals. A recent graduate of Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto, Mr. Awan has put his name to various human-rights complaints against Maclean's magazine and writer Mark Steyn, whom the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) accuses of Islamophobia. Mr. Awan and his coplaintiffs demand that the magazine provide a pro-Islamist writer with space equal to the amount devoted to Mr. Steyn's work.

At a conference over the weekend, Mr. Awan betrayed just how thoroughly he and his fellow travellers misunderstand the concept of freedom of speech. He told the Canadian Arab Federation that Muslims must "demand [the] right to participate" in national media. "And we have to tell them, you know what, if you're not going to allow us to do that, there will be consequences. You will be taken to the human rights commission, you will be taken to the press council, and you know what? If you manage to get rid of the human rights code provisions [on hate speech], we will then take you to the civil courts system. And you know what? Some judge out there might just think that perhaps it's time to have a tort of group defamation, and you might be liable for a few million dollars."

That someone who graduated from law school would issue forth with this hostile jumble of threats is a sad reflection of our rights-mad age. Apparently, Mr. Awan sees freedom of speech and freedom of the press as petty concepts to be brushed aside in the service of identity politics. In his world, the repository of expressive rights is not the individual, but rather ethnic and religious collectives, whose members must bully taxpayers and media owners into disseminating their propaganda.

Look at his insistence that "you're not going to allow us" — Muslim Canadians — to have access to national media. Who, exactly, is stopping them? Indeed, through his vexatious complaints against Maclean's, Mr. Awan has garnered for himself, his cause and the CIC an extraordinary amount of press coverage. Nor is anyone attempting to stop Mr. Awan from starting his own magazine or newspaper — or taking advantage of low-cost Internet alternatives such as blogs and podcasts to get his message out.

Perhaps what truly irks Mr. Awan is that the CIC's position — pro-censorship, pro-Islamist, anti-free speech — has been so roundly disparaged in the mainstream media. He doesn't just want his ideas floated in the general Canadian marketplace of ideas: He wants uncritical acceptance.

Sorry, but that's not the way things work in Canada — or any other democracy: People with bad ideas are mocked, ignored or refuted. You have no "human right" to get your bad ideas taken seriously.

What Mr. Awan and his benefactors at the CIC want is all the power of the press with none of the risk or cost. They want the government to help them leverage someone else's presses for their personal views.

Oh yes, and while they're at it, they would like to silence and punish those who disagree with them by having an activist judge create causes of action with penalties of "a few million dollars."

One of the reasons this newspaper believes that the powers wielded by human-rights tribunals should be scaled back is that Canada has become such a tolerant nation: We have come to accept that our Canadian identity is compatible with immigrant cultures. Now along comes the CIC and Mr. Awan, telling us that this is actually wrong — that we must renounce core Canadian values such as free speech and freedom of the press — at risk of a hysterical multi-million dollar legal campaign launched by Muslim and Arab plaintiffs.

If someone were actively seeking to stir up the worst stereotypes Canadians hold in regard to the repressive political cultures being imported into Canada by Arab and Muslim immigrants, it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Khurrum Awan.

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