Monday, December 31, 2007

Mark Steyn - Washington Times Article

I am briefly quoted in today's Washington Times by writer Barry Brown, as he takes on the Mark Steyn issue in Muslim group irked by columnist's book.

The article provides a largely balanced overview of the human rights complaints pending against Mr. Steyn and the controversy over the implications these proceedings have for freedom of expression in Canada:

TORONTO — A Muslim group is suing Canada's leading national newsweekly for the right of rebuttal because it published excerpts warning of high Muslim birthrates in the book "America Alone," by syndicated columnist Mark Steyn.

The Canadian Islamic Congress filed complaints earlier this month against Maclean's magazine with Canada's national human rights commission and provincial rights commissions in Ontario and British Columbia, charging that Mr. Steyn's writings promote hatred and contempt against Canada's estimated 750,000 Muslims.

The commission in British Columbia accepted the case and has scheduled a hearing for early June.

Mr. Steyn, whose syndicated columns appear in The Washington Times, writes that rising birthrates in Muslim countries and the declining number of babies in Christian and Westernized countries represent a long-term security threat.

Mr. Steyn, in the excerpts used by Maclean's, compared Muslims to Indians in the Old West infiltrating "the white cities" and suggested many Muslims are "hot for jihad" and favor a "bloody" war against the West.

We've written quite a bit on the complaints against Mark Steyn over recent weeks and will be following up in the short future with a more detailed look at freedom of expression in Canada and the U.S.

I have a brief elaboration on the comments attributed to me in Mr. Brown's article:

Toronto lawyer Garry Wise said Mr. Steyn's writings are not hate speech. In 1990, Canada's Supreme Court moved to prevent human rights tribunals from stepping into areas of free speech by requiring the offending material show an "extreme" amount of hatred allowing for "no redeeming qualities" in the targeted individual or group. But if one of the human rights panels does rule in favor of the Islamic council, "this case could end up in the Supreme Court."

The Supreme Court of Canada's 1990 ruling in Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor, establishes that by virtue of Section 2 of the Charter, Canadian courts and human rights commissions may not limit freedom of expression unless a communication exposes others to an "ardent and extreme" level of hatred or contempt.

The Court drew a hard line between the rare instances of abject hatred and contempt where restriction on expression may be permitted, and occurrences of mere, subjectively offensive speech, which is constitutionally protected and plainly may not be limited by Canada's human rights commissions, courts or legislators.

According to Taylor, human rights commissions may intervene to sanction an impugned communication only in the case of "unusually strong and deep-felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification."

This is an extremely high bar. In my view, the Steyn book does not rise anywhere near that level.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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