Friday, February 08, 2008

Spreading false news [updated]

A few days ago, the Ottawa Citizen's Leonard Stern wrote a column about human rights commissions and free speech. In the midst of his piece, referring to the current complaints against Maclean's magazine and Ezra Levant, he stated:

That is the problem with human rights commissions. By overreaching, and elevating insults into human rights violations, they discredit legitimate efforts to identify speech that does cause real harm.

Yesterday, Canada's National Newspaper, the Globe & Mail, published an extraordinary self-serving editorial in support of Keith Martin's proposal to remove section 13(1) from the Canadian Human Rights Act. In the course of the argument, the editorialist makes this statement:

[The motion] arrives amid the gross overreaching of human-rights commissions in hearing two high-profile cases involving journalists Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, both of which are best viewed as nuisance complaints.

Now, what "overreaching" are we talking about, exactly? What exactly have these Humans Rights Commissions done? So far, as their mandate requires, they have taken complaints from citizens against other citizens, and are presently determining whether or not these have the legitimacy to be heard. That (as I suspect the writers know full well) is all that's happened to date.

Having had enough of this "overreaching" meme, I emailed the following letter to the editor to the Globe & Mail yesterday:


There is more than enough misinformation about human-rights commissions and free speech flying around at the moment without your adding more of it. You speak of "the gross overreaching of human-rights commissions in hearing two high-profile cases involving journalists Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant." It's nothing of the kind.

Complaints submitted to the bodies in question are being investigated as to their merits. That's a screening process, not a hearing. (For what it's worth, I predict that the complaints in question will be screened out. ) The "gross overreaching," it seems to me, is by the hysterics who want us to believe that freedom of speech is on the line.


Surprise, surprise, this wasn't published. Nor were any other letters making the same point. I don't buy into the fashionable right-wing paranoia about the "MSM," but it seems pretty clear to me that the media tend to go somewhat further than ethics permit when it comes to defending their interests. Judging from the peddling of blatant falsehoods like the above, I think we can expect the media disinformation campaign against Human Rights Commissions to continue, without inconvenient facts being allowed to get in the way. We can only hope that this tactic is too obvious to permit the manufacture of the consent they are seeking.

UPDATE: (February 8)

Mark Steyn corrects the record. As he points out, two of the three complaints against Maclean's magazine--before the BC Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission--have been screened in, and will be heard by a Tribunal. My comments stand about the case of Ezra Levant. Hence my comments also stand with respect to the two newspaper accounts I cited, which misleadingly state that Levant's case is being heard. No such decision has been forthcoming from the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal.

But clearly I was misinformed. What I find odd is that Steyn's winning card hasn't been played before, in all of the blogospheric wrangling that has been going on for months. Obviously I haven't been the only one in the outer darkness. But the facts that Steyn states are incontrovertible, and indeed have been known for some time.

Hence, mea maxima culpa. Maclean's, in my view, offered the students reasonable accommodation. Things should never have proceeded so far.

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