Monday, December 17, 2007

Canada Restricts Freedom of Speech: Volokh

The Volokh Conspiracy, a leading U.S. law blog founded by UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh, has run a number of opinion pieces recently that characterize Canadian human rights legislation as a threat to freedom of speech.

The loaded titles of the Volokh articles speak for themselves:

The articles focus primarily on pending federal and provincial human rights complaints spearheaded by four law students and the Canadian Islamic Congress against Macleans Magazine.

The complaints allege that various Macleans stories propogate Islamophobia, including The Future Belongs to Islam, an article by writer Mark Steyn.

CBC covered the complaints here.

Also see these related Volokh posts:

It is always odd to see rather cherished Canadian institutions attacked through the lens of the American spin machine. We've seen this approach for years in slanted commentaries from American conservatives about our vastly superior Canadian universal health care system.

Now it appears that Canadian human rights legislation is, in a similar vein, in the Volokh crosshairs.

For the record, then, let me state the obvious:

  • These are merely complaints, and have not yet been adjudicated;
  • Allegations such as these will not necessarily be substantiated through the complaint processes or at a hearing;
  • Our press also has broad freedoms and protection in Canada - these will weigh heavily in the balance of any tribunal determination of these complaints.
  • If the complaints are weak or frivolous, they are not likely to have any success at all. The complainants nonetheless have the right to be heard. That is how our judicial processes work and that too, is a freedom worth protecting.

America certainly has its own share of doubtful, politically-motivated litigation, calculated to garner publicity or to make an important (or not-so-important) point. The entire court system is not impugned by the actions of any frivolous, individual litigant.

Similarly, I have little doubt that these complaints will be adjudicated in a manner that does credit to the Canada's very fundamental human rights protection legislation.



I should note that Volokh is not entirely alone in its concern. This is apparent from this rather hyperbolic commentary by Evan Coyne Maloney, who, in spite of his own invective, appears to have no inability to pipe in with his own 1.5 cents on the Human Rights Commission proceedings:

Whatever the outcome, Canadians shouldn’t fear that they might lose their right to think freely. They should mourn, because that right is long gone.

The New York Post also joins the chorus with Canada's Thought Police:

December 16, 2007 -- Celebrated author Mark Steyn has been summoned to appear before two Canadian judicial panels on charges linked to his book “America Alone."

The book, a No. 1 bestseller in Canada, argues that Western nations are succumbing to an Islamist imperialist threat. The fact that charges based on it are proceeding apace proves his point.

Ah, the Post.

Always so thoughtful.


UPDATE: I have more to say on this controversy here and here.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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