Sunday, May 18, 2008

The speech-warrior strategy of confusion

David Warren is just the latest far-right commentator to make the spurious claim that Ezra Levant, Mark and Connie Fournier, Kate McMillan, Kathy Shaidle and Jonathan Kay--the self-styled "Canuck Six"--have been "hauled before the so-called 'human rights' commissions, and shaken down with frivolous but financially ruinous sue-and-stall court litigation, on the suspicion that they have entertained 'hateful,' politically incorrect thoughts."

Warren, even if he is a bigoted throwback to the Middle Ages, is not a stupid man. Nor is he unaware of the facts in this instance. One cannot excuse him, therefore, on the grounds of ignorance, as one might in the case of American commentators* who tend to get a lot wrong when they're dealing with Canadian topics. He's joined what appears to be a deliberate strategy on the part of the speech-warriors these days: to conflate the current libel suits with earlier human rights proceedings (although the warriors and their hangers-on are happy to play both sides on this one: somehow legal action against their political opponents, aimed at shutting down fair comment, is not an issue of freedom of expression, except to a principled few). By sowing this confusion, they are trying to whip up outrage against perfectly legal, reasonable and well-founded anti-defamation actions.

Hate speech and "politically incorrect" thinking have nothing to do with the present lawsuits against the so-called "Canuck Six." These actions aren't about free expression, or about the opinions that the six happen to hold. The suits are not being argued before a human rights commission, but before a civil court, and the issue isn't politics, but libel. Generally speaking, you can't run around publicly and maliciously accusing people of unethical conduct, which could have serious professional consequences for the latter, unless you are prepared to prove those accusations.

But this is precisely what these six fine citizens did in the case of their political enemy Richard Warman. They accused him, with no proof whatsoever, of engaging in grossly unethical activity, claiming he was the author of the infamous Anne Cools post on an extremist website, and making a number of other unproven assertions about his actions and character that any reasonable person would consider defamatory. And so, as any other citizen might, Warman is fighting back.

Indeed, if I had my druthers, there would be more lawsuits. Take, for example, Mark Steyn's outrageous and unfounded claim that Dean Steacy, an employee of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, is a criminal who engaged in theft of communications. If I had deep enough pockets, I'd bankroll Steacy for a civil action against both Steyn and Maclean's, the magazine that was foolish enough to publish Steyn's allegation. (Maybe when the dust has settled on the Warman v. Lemire case, we can set up a legal fund for Steacy. In my opinion, he'd win those cases in a cakewalk.)

In any event, the fact that it was only complaints against unsavoury, hateful speech by Nazis and homophobes that brought these "free speech" types out of the shadows in the first place is irrelevant to the libel actions now being pursued. The latter do not address opinion, but accusation. And, just as things should be in a civilized society, the accusers are now being held accountable. They will have a complete opportunity to back up their damaging public allegations about someone they dislike under the full light of court scrutiny. Isn't this the very system--a "real court of law"--that they have been so ardently defending when it suits them?

*NB: I originally linked to this post. The owner has indignantly informed me that the writer of the article is Canadian. The link is now to Michelle Malkin, whose American credentials are not in question.

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