The Kafkaesque Show Trial of Mark Steyn
"[Inside the windowless courtroom] there's no link with the outside world except a clock, which is stuck at 8:00. And that's government bureaucracy for you. You know, in British Columbia, it claims to be able to eradicate hate, but it can't get someone in to restart the clock."
-- Mark Steyn on the Hugh Hewitt Show, June 5, 2008
Author and columnist Mark Steyn's week-long trial for "hate speech" began in a British Columbia courtroom on June 2.
As previously reported in Pajamas Media, Steyn was accused of "flagrant Islamaphobia" after his bestselling book America Alone was excerpted in Canada's oldest newsweekly magazine, Maclean's, in 2006.
If found guilty by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Maclean's could be ordered to stop publishing Steyn's column, or other articles "likely" to expose Muslims to "hatred or contempt." In other words, a magazine that's been published for over a century in an ostensibly free Western nation will now be subject to state sanction and preemptive censorship. Canadian Human Rights Tribunals boast a 100% conviction rate on such "hate speech" cases, and have already handed down lifetime bans against the likes of Rev. Scott Boision. That Christian preacher is now forbidden for life from ever citing Bible verses regarding homosexuality in his sermons, or "in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet."
So Mark Steyn's guilty verdict seems a fait accompli. As he predicted in May, his "career in Canada will be formally ended next month."
Canada's liberal mainstream media more or less shrugged. A veteran journalism professor condemned the "xenophobic" Steyn in an online forum for professional reporters, accusing Steyn of failing to express his opinions "in food [sic] faith," then scolding prissily that "everyone must obey the law."
With professors like that training journalists, it is no wonder that the state-run, taxpayer-funded CBC got the name of Steyn's book wrong, their local reporters admitted they knew nothing about the case they'd been sent to cover, and rival outlet CTV published an amateurish, glorified book review in lieu of an objective, unbiased news report.
The trial lasted five days, and Maclean's own Andrew Coyne live blogged for, well, four and a half.
There will be no more live logging. As I left the courtroom for the lunch break [on Friday June 6], I was taken aside by a sheepish-looking court official, who said that he'd just learned that I had been "broadcasting" from inside the courtroom. So had I? Broadcasting, I said? I didn't have a microphone, or a camera.
No, he explained: but live logging counts as broadcasting. It's not the computer that's the problem. You can type away on it all you want. If you step outside to send it, that's okay, too. But if you send text from within the courtroom, that's broadcasting.
Anyway, I gave him my solemn word that I would do no more broadcasting. What with the hearings being almost over and all. It seemed a fitting way to put a cap on the week.
Despite the national media's general incompetence and indifference, many troubling or just plain bizarre developments during the trial made their way into the public record nevertheless:
- One of his accusers admitted under oath that he'd misrepresented his group's initial demands to the media on numerous occasions.
- Websites that linked to the "offending" Maclean's article -- including U.S.-based sites like Free Republic and Catholic Answers -- were proof of Steyn's contagious "Islamophobia." This led another Catholic website to ask: "Catholicism: A Hate Crime in Canada?" (A particular point of pride for this writer was one accuser's testimony that my blog, FiveFeetOfFury.com, had been a particular source of "heat" he'd "felt" since he'd filed his complaint against Steyn.)
- Unable to refute Steyn's statistics and facts, or to deny that the portions of the article they found most offensive were in fact chilling quotations made by radical Muslims themselves, Steyn's accusers condemned his "tone," use of "sarcasm," and reliance upon "subtle intellectual arguments."
Not a few bloggers noted ruefully that the last day of Steyn's trial coincided with the anniversary of D-Day, and wondered what the Canadian men who'd died on Juno Beach would make of their nation today.
As for the outcome: no one knows when the Tribunal will issue its decision. As Andrew Coyne told National Review:
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.
Steyn agrees. Echoing many of his supporters, he told reporters:
We want to lose so we can take it to a real court and if necessary up to the Supreme Court of Canada and we can get the ancient liberties of free-born Canadian citizens that have been taken away from them by tribunals like this.
We want those ancient civil liberties restored.
Musing on his surreal circumstances, Steyn wrote in what may be one of his last columns for Maclean's:
By the way, I see I've been nominated for a National Magazine Award, to be handed out later this month. By then, Mr. Joseph [the complainants' lawyer] will have succeeded in getting the B.C. troika effectively to ban me from Maclean's and from all Canadian journalism. An impressive achievement. My book was a No. 1 bestseller in Canada, and the new paperback edition was at No. 4 the other day, and President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Governor Mitt Romney, Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator Jon Kyl, and (at last count) six European prime ministers have either recommended the book or called me in to discuss its themes.
But in Canada it's a hate crime.