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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Civil rights on the agenda at Conservative Party Convention?

At the Conservative Party of Canada's upcoming policy convention in Winnipeg, kicking off November 13, there will be a resolution:
Modify HRC Jurisdiction


iii) The Conservative Party supports legislation to remove authority from the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal to regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints related to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The resolution is to be discussed Friday November 14 between 8:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m., as part of "Canada's Social and Democratic Framework"

"Democratic" as in "The People's Democratic Republic of Canuckistan", presumably, based on the Commission's recent behaviour, exhaustively catalogued by civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant. But at least discussing the out of control Commission is a start. As Ezra likes to remind us, a year and a half ago, people wouldn't believe that anything that bad could possibly be true. Now they know. And many care.

But we still have a long way to go. As Deborah Gyapong of the Parliamentary Press Gallery writes, the recent media lawyers' conference barred media:
Today I hoped to hear Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin`s keynote speech on libel and various panels on libel chill, and what the conference bills as ``The New Fair Comment Defense`` in the Supreme`s Rafe Mair v. Kari Simpson case. While Ezra thinks the case expands fair comment, I am among the doubters who thinks it merely signals that the most unreasonable hallmarks of hate (see sec. f.iii) can be used against conservative Christians and that`s fair comment, but try it against any other group and the fair comment options suddenly shrink dramatically.
That could be, given a recent Alberta ruling denying that Christians (like the complainant, presumably) could be victims.

(Note: I would strongly discourage any fellow Christian from complaining to one of these commissions. The good citizen neither advises nor submits to arbitrary measures, as Junius said, and these commissions push the word "arbitrary" to its further limits. Christians should be good citizens and help get rid of them.)

Here is Ezra Levant's address:
In the four years that I was publisher of the Western Standard magazine, we received, on average, one threat of a defamation lawsuit each month – or about one every other issue. But never once did any of those threats turn into a statement of claim, let alone a trial.
That's because Canadian defamation law is designed to discourage people who are simply attempting to silence someone. They can end up losing the case, paying a ton of money, and suffering the embarrassment of a judge ruling that they were not defamed. Not so "human rights" law:
We were sued not in defamation law, but in human rights law. And the reason we were sued is precisely because all of the traditional defences that stood our magazine in such good stead in the face of defamation suits, were taken away from us by the government.

Our factual accuracy was of no use. The charge was discrimination or, to use the precise language of the law, we had published something “likely to expose a person… to hatred or contempt”. A plain reading of that will tell you it’s got nothing to do with factual accuracy. It also has nothing to do with reasonableness of opinion or journalistic responsibility. Those defences have been developed over 400 years of defamation law. They do not apply to human rights suits.

Another defence we were not able to use was that damages suffered by the busy-body plaintiffs were remote or non-existent. Again, a plain reading of the law shows that no damages are necessary to convict – as if being “exposed” to someone’s mere feelings was a compensable damage. But even if it was, that’s not what the law requires: we had only to “likely” expose someone to bad feelings. Likely means maybe, maybe not.

As well, the natural check on American-style over-litigation – the financial, time and emotional cost of suing, and the risk of costs being awarded to the defendant – were not in play. The government of Alberta carried the investigation against us, and, had the case not been dismissed, would have prosecuted us before a tribunal. The complainants didn’t have to spend a dime or a minute – and the law prohibited me from collecting costs when I won.

There was no discovery process whereby a plaintiff with dirty hands would be embarrassed to proceed.
No, giving the defendant a chance would spoil the witch hunt.

What will the legacy mainstream media make of the discussion of Section 13? Hard to say. They might choose to pontificate about "diversity" and photograph trendy Toronto Annex tots wearing tee shirts saying "I want my human rights! Keep Section 13!"

Straw in the wind: Recounting an incident from a panel discussion in Halifax on the "right to offend", Canadian civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant described a pro-censorship Toronto journalism prof - and the anecdote is most revealing:
There was a weird moment during the panel when Miller said that Mark Steyn simply wasn't a good journalist -- compared to him, one presumes -- because Miller couldn't find corroboration for one of Steyn's quotes ...

I went to Google as Miller was talking, and found a ton of references for it. ...

It was pretty sad: an ageing journalism professor, looking down his nose at Steyn and accusing Steyn of sloppiness (and disparaging mere bloggers, too), while half the kids in the room could have found what Miller couldn't in about five minutes on the Net. Some "expert" witness.
Levant has captured in miniature the fact that the partisanship of old media is driven by their growing irrelevance.

People are not abandoning old media because they have become outrageously partisan. Old media are outrageously partisan because people are abandoning them. They morph into government media (for a government that is sympathetic to their problems, of course).

Full of nostalgia for the days when news was whatever they told us, they advocate censorship of new media and defend heavy censorship laws, in the name of "human rights".

But it won't work. Incompetence and irrelevance do not magically turn into competence and relevance once government gets behind them. In fact, ...

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