Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Free speech follies

The Speech Warriors™ have been having quite a week of it.

Visiting Warrior Mark Steyn drew a rapt crowd of, well, two dozen, as he addressed an Ontario government legislative committee, calling the head of the Ontario Human Rights Commission a "commissar" and predicting terrorist violence if rights commissions persist:

When you go down that road, all you do is lead to the situation that you have in, say, Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, you can't start a newspaper and print what you think, so if you object to the House of Saud, the only thing you can do is blow stuff up.

Steyn's already-stated preference for physical violence over civility (and he's not alone) was reiterated:

If a guy uses the 'n-word' in a bar, I would rather somebody slugged him on the chin rather than him being dragged up before your tribunal.

And then, proving that he has been in New Hampshire self-exile for rather too long a period, he added this howler:

This is not a hateful province. This is not a jurisdiction where people openly insult and use racist epithets.

Naw, no racism in Ontario. But as the National Post's Joseph Brean noted, the dismal performance of this shopworn hack was eclipsed by the impassioned comments of a university professor, one Richard Moon.

Moon, as readers might remember, was the author of a recent report proposing the abolition of Sn. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or, failing that, some revisions to it. (I took a look at the contents of that report here.) He had been invited on that basis by Lisa MacLeod, the Tory MPP from Nepean-Carleton. She was in for a rude shock.

For Moon, it seems, has had quite enough guff from the Speech Warriors™, and he wasted no time seizing his opportunity to be heard. He delivered a strong defence of human rights commissions and of the integrity of their staff. Then he proceeded to an epic smackdown of Ezra Levant, who had attacked his report before it even appeared.

Levant had claimed that Moon's report had been "redacted by [Canadian Human Rights Commissioner] Jennifer Lynch." Moon corrected the record in no uncertain terms:

The claim was false. I was given complete independence, and when my report was released the following day and recommended the repeal of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the falsity of Levant's claim was obvious. He had just made it up. He thought he knew what I would say and he sought to discredit the report in advance by attacking me and the commission rather than the arguments I might make.

He wondered aloud why he had been invited, a question that the hapless Lisa MacLeod must have asked herself as well:

"Why invite me? It didn't make any sense," Prof. Moon said. He initially declined, but accepted after hearing Mr. Steyn, author of a controversial book excerpt that led to three human rights hate speech complaints against Maclean's magazine, would also appear. He said he also felt obliged to publicly rebut the claims of personal malfeasance by CHRC staff, of which he found no evidence in his own research, and which are often repeated by commentators who cite him admiringly as an authority.

The invitation "made me realize that there is serious interest, and maybe this smear campaign against the commissions generally has taken hold to some extent. Why else invite me?"

Bingo. And MacLeod got all grumpy: "I'm very disappointed. I didn't call you in to make accusations and call people liars." Nope, you called him in to be a pawn in your little game, and he wouldn't play along. Bummer.

The next "site of struggle," as we postmodernists like to call it, was the campus of St. Mary's University, where a troll wandered onto the campus to equate abortion to the Holocaust, and pro-choicers to Nazis. The knuckledragger was shouted down, as might have been predicted when you gravely insult a crowd to its face. "Mob rule," he complained, as did conservative blogger Damian Penny. Perhaps Mark Steyn's preferred solution should have been applied? I but ask.

The invariably annoying Speech Warrior
enabler Margaret Wente wrote her column today about free speech on university campuses. She didn't mention the St. Mary's imbroglio, but brought up a lot of other cases, making errors of fact and setting up a bizarre strawman.

She claims, for example, that Carleton University "banned" a "pro-life" group from campus, which is being somewhat careless with the truth, to put it mildly. There was no ban: the Carleton University Students' Association simply decided not to give money to the group, although, after it re-did its charter to be in conformity with CUSA's human rights policy, it was funded after all. The group was always free to meet and to proselytize at Carleton, whether on the student body's dime or not.

And she states that "pro-lifers" are "occasionally compared" to Holocaust-deniers, then
triumphantly shoots down her own invention, for invention it is, by noting that the right-to-lifers are presently doing the abortion = Holocaust thing. The implication is that pro-choicers are illogical. Sloppy, tendentious journamalism.

Meanwhile, the Usual Suspects
are in heaven. Well, not entirely.

UPDATE: Moon's on fire! (via Warren Kinsella, here's a more comprehensive version of what the professor had to say)

Mr. Richard Moon:

Okay. I assume that I was asked to speak to you because I recently wrote a report for the Canadian Human Rights Commission dealing with section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and that’s the section of the act that prohibits Internet hate speech, understood as communication that is likely to expose the members of an identifiable group to hatred or contempt. In a minute, I’ll say something about my report and its recommendations, but first I wanted to comment on the current debate in Canada concerning the regulation of hate speech in the Human Rights Code.Let me start by saying there is certainly a serious debate to be had about the legal regulation of hate speech: about whether it should be regulated, about the scope of regulation and about the legal mechanisms for regulation.

But the debate in Canada has been infected by a style of political comment that’s relatively new in Canada but better known in the US. There are a number of right-wing critics in Canada who, instead of offering serious and plausible criticism of the Human Rights Code regulations, engage in baseless personal attacks. Without compunction, they accuse the civil servants who are mandated to implement human rights legislation of corruption. They use the term “corruption” freely and very loosely, but always in a way that suggests a significant breach of public trust. The accusations have no substance; they are pieced together out of nothing. But what they achieve, what the commentators want them to achieve, is a general sense that there is a serious problem, even if the specifics of the problem are unknown.

I suspect that my invitation to speak to you today shows that these commentators have been successful in their smear campaign against human rights commissions. I urge the committee not to be taken in by these individuals. They don’t care about the truth; they make things up.

I want to give an example of this : The night before my report was released in November, Ezra Levant posted on his blog a comment about the report. The title of his posting was, “Richard Moon’s report was redacted by Jennifer Lynch.” Jennifer Lynch, as many of you may know, is the chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The claim or suggestion was that the report was not my own work—that I was told by the commission what to say.

The claim was false—I was given complete independence—and when my report was released the following day and recommended the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the falsity of Levant’s claim was obvious. Levant had just made it up.

He thought he knew what I would say and he sought to discredit the report in advance by attacking me and the commission rather than the arguments I might make. Had I recommended something different, that section 13 be retained with certain amendments—a perfectly reasonable position—then Levant’s false claim and the commission rather than the arguments I might make. Had I recommended something different, that section 13 be retained with certain amendments—a perfectly reasonable position—then Levant’s false claim about the report might have seemed plausible to some people and would have been difficult for me to refute decisively.

This is his general style and that of others. Over the last few years, these commentators have made a series of baseless accusations against the members and staff or the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and these claims have leaked into the mainstream media, into the National Post, and into the columns of the Globe and Mail. Believe none of it. As I said at the outset, there are some serious questions to be addressed, but I have come to the conclusion that certain individuals who have played a large role in the campaign against human rights laws and human rights commissions, particularly in the context of hate speech, have no interest in serious debate or in the truth.

...Now another issue, I suppose—and I will say I had not actually originally intended to make an opening statement of sorts and certainly not with the content that this one had until I realized that Mark Steyn was also to be speaking to you today. So another issue, it seems to me, has to do with the role of the commission in monitoring and commenting on patterns and instance of hateful or discriminatory speech in the province. The comments made by Barbara Hall regarding the Mark Steyn article were criticized by some.

The commission decided that it did not have jurisdiction, but nevertheless observed that the article was discriminatory.

In my report I argued that the law—and I’m speaking of course about the and my focus was on the federal act—should not prohibit expression that defames the members of an identifiable group; that we should instead consider other ways to respond to such speech.

The Mark Steyn article, in my view, should not be censored but nor should it go unanswered. It was an unfair and deceptive in its content and glib and sometimes juvenile in its style. How are the members of the Muslim community to respond to the suggestion in Canada’s national news magazine that they are violent or sympathetic to violence? They do not have Mark Steyn’s platform.

There may be a role for the commission to play in response to defamatory, discriminatory speech in the community. Its mandate is to educate and advocate. As an institution, as it’s currently designed, I am not sure how well-suited the commission is to such a role. In my report I advocated a strengthening of the voluntary press council system, but I certainly would not want to rule out the possibility that the commission may also have a role to play. Those are my opening remarks.

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