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.
Canada’s Human Rights Commissions (CHRCs) were established in the 1970s to address case-by-case discrimination in areas such as housing and employment. Initially empowered to investigate legitimate violations, the commissions and their tribunals soon began using their powers to silence citizens who declined to embrace the new vision of Canada being foisted upon them by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau: multicultural, pacifist, and militantly tolerant.
So for years, Jewish groups used the HRCs to shut down obscure “neo-Nazi” websites, while gay activists targeted conservative Christian writers, including a Catholic bishop who’d issued a pastoral letter to his flock, clarifying Church teaching during the national debate over gay marriage.
The case against Mark Steyn marked the second time Canadian Muslims had duly followed the example of these other “victim” groups in seeking redress for their “hurt feelings.”
(In the first instance, an Alberta imam brought an HRC case against Ezra Levant for republishing the controversial Danish Mohammed cartoons in his magazine, the Western Standard. The cases against Levant were eventually either dropped or dismissed.)
The Canadian Islamic Congress issued a statement on Friday evening, putting the best spin possible on the outcome.
“We are pleased that the tribunal acknowledged the article in question contained ‘numerous factual, historical, and religious inaccuracies about Islam and Muslims’ and that it attempted ‘to rally public opinion by exaggeration and causing the reader to fear Muslims,'” said the CIC’s lawyer Faisal Joseph.
Joseph added, “We hope that all news media will now take this opportunity to critically examine how Muslims are represented in their news and editorial coverage.”
If you detect an unstated “or else” at the end of that sentence, you aren’t imagining things. Two of the CIC members responsible for bringing the charges against Steyn and Maclean’s were overheard at a meeting at a mosque earlier this year outlining their plan to fight “Islamophobia” by continuing to battle Canada’s “Zionist-run media,” regardless of the outcome of this particular case.
Having followed the Human Rights Commission cases of Steyn, Levant, and others closely enough to have just written a book about them, I wouldn’t put it past the Canadian Islamic Congress to scold the B.C. tribunal for issuing its judgment on Friday, the Muslim holy day — and adding that to their list of grievances, in their virtually inevitable appeal.