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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Roundup

Just some quick notes. Pretty busy these days writing index jobs. Publishing industry seems to be climbing out of the recession.

- Scaramouche (who else?) recounts
Remember the case of the women's health club owner who got in hot water with Ontario's "human rights" officials for barring a pre-op transexual from bringing her meat-and-two-veg to his table (so to speak)? Karen Selick writes in the National Post that "(w)ithin a week, two more 'transitioning' men tried to join the women's gym, even though there's a co-ed gym right next door"--which Selick describes as an obvious attempt at a "shakedown". Which put gym owner John Fulton in a bit of a quandary. Should he allow "transitionals" in the locker, and risk alienating that portion of his clientele that prefered a dickless environment, or should he fight the shakedown, and end up having to pay mucho dinero in legal bills?
Actually, it’s not surprising that the “human rights” shakedown would target small business owners. They have assets but - unlike big ones - they can’t just “lawyer up.” Presumably many just pay. (In Canada, the plaintiff’s legal costs are zilch; the defendant often cannot afford representation - one reason, many argue, that conviction rates are so high.)

- From the Internet Changes Everything files: Joseph Brean, who follows the “human rights” shakedown for the National Post, has been following the arguments in Federal Court, challenging the constitutionality of Orwellian Section 13, reports that:

The 20-year-old legal reasoning behind Canada's human rights hate speech law is now "utterly outdated" because of the "interactive, dynamic and democratizing" effects of the Internet, according to arguments in Federal Court.

Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prohibits online messages that expose identifiable groups to hatred or contempt, was designed in the 1970s for telephone hate hotlines.

[ ... ]

Parliament's decision in 2001 to expand Section 13 to include the Internet -- and therefore almost every word published in Canada, whether by a blogger or a media conglomerate -- is "such a fundamental change" that Federal Court is "not only justified but required" to revisit the question of Section 13's constitutionality, especially because it does not allow for the traditional legal defenses of truth or fair comment.
argues the defendant’s lawyer. Good point. But even back then, the Supreme Court decision upholding the law could be questioned on the grounds that - as Five Feet of Fury puts it, you had to phone the line and offend yourself. It was a law just waiting to explode in everyone’s face.

Hat tip: Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee

- From the Shut yer face or we’ll shut yer doors files: Toronto Tamil newspaper office vandalized. Go here:
he publisher said he had been expecting something like this after a week of angry phone calls - fallout from a meeting last week of Tamil-Canadian leaders with high-ranking Sri Lankan officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

But that didn't make what Mr. Logendralingam found any easier to bear: A sea of glass shards littering the parking lot of the Progress Road office, and a gaping hole left where the double-plated glass windows used to be. - Anna Mehler Paperny, Globe and Mail, February 26, 2010
Here’s Brean for the National Post. Here’s CBC News, which fills us in on a cause:
Toronto police are investigating the incident, but Logandrahlingam told CBC News that he thinks the attack may have been a warning from people who are unhappy that some members of the Canada-Sri Lanka Business Council travelled to Sri Lanka to meet with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

He said the caller said Logandrahlingam's "friends" had visited the Sri Lankan president, who was a “killer” and “an enemy of Tamils.”
All I know is this: If people decide to pull up stakes elsewhere and move to Canada, they should not bring foreign politics here. We are just so not the world’s policeman, and most Canadians like a low threat society.

Hat tip: Franklin Carter at the Book and Periodical Council's Freedom of Expression Committee

From the No, I do NOT have to just shut up files: Reflections on a recent Supreme Court victory during Freedom to Read week:
The Supreme Court ruling is the result of an appeal by the Toronto Star against Ontario developer Peter Grant, who had been awarded damages of $1.45 million over a 2001 article about his plans to expand a private golf course on his property in northern Ontario. In the article, local residents were quoted as saying that a planned golf course was a “done deal” because of Grant’s political connections (he was a personal friend of former Ontario premiere Mike Harris).

Known as the “responsible communication” defence, the court decision allows journalists to fight such charges even if some published facts turn out to be wrong – as long as they prove the matter is of public interest and they pursued all avenues to find the truth.

Although critics worry that this defence will allow journalists to publish “rumours and innuendo,” English says the onus is still on writers to prove they have made their best effort to get both sides of a story. She calls the court’s decision a “game changer” that will allow writers to pursue stories they might have otherwise avoided because of the threat of unfounded lawsuits.

- Laura Godfrey, Quill & Quire, February 18, 2010
Well, the way I see it, if we can’t report what’s both true and in the public interest, then we can’t report news. Period. And that’s just how some would like it.

- From the Don't let them find out it's trash files: In Foreign Policy (February 5, 2010), Stephen M. Walt notes,
the best way to deal with a book like Mein Kampf is to expose it to light, demolish its "arguments," and remind everyone where Hitler's world-view ultimately led. Apart from its obvious xenophobia and anti-Semitism, the book is filled with historical falsehoods, bogus prescriptions and sophomoric attempts at philosophy. If you want fascism to remain a marginalized social phenomenon, allowing qualified historians to dissect Hitler's ideas is a better antidote than censorship. After acknowledging the legitimate sensitivities of some who oppose publication, Stephen Kramer, secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, wisely counseled that the best course was not censorship but an open effort to put the work in context, with an appropriate commentary. As he told the Times, "Those who are already on the wrong side already have the book and already read it from their own point of view. Let's get it out there, and let's get it out there with a commentary." Furthermore, banning publication would just let extremists argue that elites are conspiring to keep some valuable "wisdom" away from the people, and a few nutjobs might even believe them.
As a matter of fact, as Canadian civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant points out, Hitler got huge mileage out of Weimar government persecution of his views, establishing him as a martyr. The worst part of censorship in a case like this is that people who will never read Mein Kampf will endow it with a certain glamour. The effect would vanish once they read a bit of it, as I once did.

(Note: I provide this service mainly for interested non-Canadians. If you are local, you are better off with Blazing Cat Fur, Five Feet of Fury, or Ezra Levant.)

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