Earlier this year, Maclean’s columnist Andrew Coyne dutifully live-blogged the proceedings when his magazine, Canada’s oldest newsweekly, and his fellow columnist Mark Steyn were “tried” by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) for the “crime” of “flagrant Islamophobia.” The complaint, brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC), focused on an excerpt from Steyn’s bestselling book America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, published in Maclean’s two years earlier (see “Mark Steyn vs. the Sock Puppets“). The CIC objected to everything from Steyn’s “tone” and “use of sarcasm,” to his use of accurate, albeit unsettling, quotations made not by a white supremacist skinhead, mind you, but by a Norwegian imam, boasting that European Muslims were “breeding like mosquitoes.”
My hope is that it will go to appeal — in other words, I’m hoping that we lose this at the hearing level and that we appeal it to a proper court of law, as opposed to these quasi-judicial tribunals, and at that proper court of law that we make the constitutional argument that this is an infringement of our charter rights to freedom of the press. I believe that’s what we’ll do if we lose the case.
On October 10, 2008, mid-afternoon on the Friday before a long weekend, with reporters preoccupied with a Canadian federal election only days away, the BCHRT issued its ruling on the case against Steyn and Maclean’s: on the charge of “exposing the complainants to hatred or contempt based on their religion” — not guilty.
Hence Coyne’s disappointment.
“Be clear on this,” Coyne blogged right after the verdict came down:
It is no victory to be told by a shadowy government agency that you will be permitted to publish. This ruling only preserves the tribunal from utterly discrediting itself, and as such keeps alive the possibility that some other complainant can drag Maclean’s or any other media organization through yet another travesty half-a-continent away, at great expense of time and money. It also prevents Maclean’s from appealing the tribunal’s decision to an actual court, wherein it might have had the relevant section of the B.C. human rights laws thrown out on constitutional grounds. (Or does it? Can you appeal when you win?)
Who knows? Not even the Canadian Human Rights bureaucracy itself, in all likelihood. Its commissions and tribunals often make up the rules as they go along. And why not? They operate outside the criminal justice system in an Orwellian world of their own. Centuries-old English common law rules of evidence don’t apply. Truth is no defense. Neither is intent. Defendants are presumed guilty rather than innocent. Commissioners can seize a defendant’s computer without a warrant. In direct defiance of a Canadian Supreme Court decision regarding appropriate punishments for convicted murderers, guilty HRC defendants have been ordered to apologize to their accusers and, in the case of a Christian pastor found guilty of “homophobia,” even sentenced to lifetime speech bans.