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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Intellectual freedom threats in Canada: Legal guru fingers "human rights" commissions, Internet

As Jacquie McNish reports in the Globe and Mail today, Julian Porter, Maclean's Magazine's defender, weighs in on the human rights commissions blunder into media issues:
After four decades of suing or defending prominent authors, journalists and businessmen entangled in some of Canada's most memorable libel cases, Mr. Porter warns that it is getting harder to defend reputations or preserve freedom of speech - rights honed over centuries of case law.

One culprit, he said, is quasi-judicial bodies such as human rights tribunals, which are operating far "beyond their jurisdiction."

When these agencies investigate slander and defamation charges, he argues, they operate outside the bounds of civil court procedure. Defendants cannot rely on traditional libel defences such as truth, fair comment or good intent.

Of course he is right, but we need to see what underlies the trend: The increasing willingness, as sociologist Steve Fuller has noted, for people to see themselves as animals makes traditional concepts of civil rights difficult to sustain. Government nanny monsters like the "human rights" commissions destroy individuals' lives with little restraint and no compunction, let alone accountability, because those individuals do not matter. Social engineering matters. In the same spirit, a farmer might get rid of an ornery cow.

Porter, as might be expected, is less than pleased that the Canadian Human Rights Commission dropped the complaint against his client, historic Maclean's Magazine. It is widely understood by those who have been following the advance of these "human rights" tyrannies that this is a tactical withdrawal only. The Commissions will go back to persecuting less powerful people, especially traditional Christians, until they gain enough heft to go after the likes of Mark Steyn and Maclean's again.

He also blames the growth of blogs on the Internet, run by people with few or no assets for undermining traditional libel law. Here, of course, one wonders about Porter's sense of proportion. As I have said before, the Internet is a horizontal medium, not a vertical one. The fact that someone is dissing someone else on the Internet usually matters about as much as a backyard shoutout among the clotheslines. It was, however, a bonanza for Commission creep, because the Commissars can treat every scold as if he or she were editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail, relentlessly expanding their power to punish and destroy in the process.

Every area into which they waddle becomes their territory forever, with the federal government's blessing.

Many of us would far rather someone who can afford to appeal (like Maclean's boss Ted Rogers) be convicted by the Commissars. That way, the Supreme Court will almost certainly send the Commissars waddling back to a portfolio they can handle - and perhaps eventually into extinction.

See also: "An open letter to Guy Earle (A late nite comic charged with giving offence)

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