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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Intellectual freedom in Canada: We may be making progress!

Professor Ed Morgan, who supported "human rights" commissions in the past, admits that he made a mistake, thinking that the slaughter in Rwanda in the early 1990s showed that "human rights" commissions were needed in Canada, to control thought, speech, and action to prevent violence. In Live and learn: Confessions of a Jewish Professor (Canadian Jewish News (23 October 2008), he writes,
I took seriously the admonition we often hear that the Holocaust began not with deeds but with words. ... It turns out, if we read our history correctly, that the Holocaust began not only with words, but with book burning. Once we go down the road of censorship for the sake of promoting tolerance, we may soon be standing at the heights of intolerance.
What many pundits and learned professors overlooked is a fundamental similarity between, say, the religious police of Saudi Arabia and "human rights" commissions - they attract people with a severe itch to control their neighbours' lives. As a result, the envelope gets pushed regularly - and finally torn to pieces. Famously, the Canadian human rights commissions decided to go after clergy, media figures, a comedian, and now even a Member of Parliament.

None of that was envisioned in their original mandate. But then, I don't suppose that the Saudi religious police mandate included stopping schoolgirls from fleeing a burning building without full religious dress either - however, they did so in 2002, and 15 died as a result. That is why, in my view, it is better not to have a "Committee of Public Righteousness," whether its intentions are secular ("human rights" commissions) or religious ("religious police"). The kind of people who would not themselves join such an organization are rarely able to control it. Certainly, they have not succeeded in Canada.

Hopeful straws in the wind ...

In other news, journalists and broadcasters are speaking up with increasing confidence. Now that three separate prosecutions of Maclean's Magazine and Mark Steyn have failed, journalists are less wary about bringing financial ruin or lifetime publication bans on their medium by talking about what we know is going badly wrong.

For example,

In the Calgary Herald, an editorial writer argues that the HRCs still pose a threat to free expression in Canada. (Of course they still pose a threat! Lost in the hoopla over an acquittal is the grim fact that a civil servant could start t he horror all over again tomorrow by agreeing to hear another "complaint.")

Betty Ann Adam of the Canwest News Service reports on the prosecution of a Canadian Member of Parliament because an old householder brochure is believed by someone to have promoted racist ideas. So much for immunity of members of Parliament!

The Canadian Association of Journalists has demanded an end to the HRC tribunals' interference in a free press. Some might wonder why they didn't speak out more loudly a long time ago. But in a climate of accelerating fear, the Association must ask, how can we best serve our members?

The best way, it appears, is now to join the growing chorus demanding that the "human rights" commissioners - in advance of just being fired outright, en masse - stay away from media, which they should never have tried interfering with.

In Halifax, Paul Schneidereit of The ChronicleHerald points out that two local universities will host debates this week on the limits of free expression in Canada. That's good, because university campuses have increasingly become one of the least free areas of society across North America, due to speech codes, et cetera. Nothing like teaching the most intelligent young people that "Totalitarianism is fun and good for you!"

In The Edmonton Journal, Alexandra Zabjek explains Alan Borovoy's views on human rights commissions and free speech. Borovoy is the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Well, honestly, I was quite unimpressed when I heard Borovoy and some others on this subject at a recent meeting in Toronto.

The well-meaning Borovoy created a monster. Most people who create monsters are well-meaning, but that doesn't mean that their creations are not monsters. As I have said earlier, shoot Borovoy's monster now.

Warren Kinsella - a former Liberal party adviser - has filed yet another lawsuit against free-speech activist Ezra Levant in Calgary. So far as I can see, lawsuits against free-speechers are increasingly a weapon of choice for the defenders of the "human rights" commissions. Levant discusses the details here.

Does any of this mean victory for intellectual freedom? Not at all, but it does mean that more people are realizing what loss of intellectual freedom will mean to them personally - and more and more light is being shed on anti-freedom activities in Canada. Stay tuned.

Hat tip to Franklin Carter of the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council of Canada.

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