Sunday, May 11, 2008

This is not about censorship!

I noticed from watching the debate between Mark Steyn and the three former Osgoode Hall students on TVO that the students are trying to re-frame the debate. They keep claiming they don't want to silence anyone - they merely want a right to respond to the hateful material Maclean's has been running. If you watch the clip, you will see Khurrum Awan claiming that the CIC plans to ask the BC Tribunal for a declaration that the Maclean's material contravened the Human Rights Code by exposing Muslims to hate and an order for Maclean's to print a rebuttal of adequate length from a mutually acceptable author. So, these are their demands in a nutshell: 1) the Tribunal's acknowledgment that the pieces were hateful and 2) to have their response run in Maclean's presumably around 5000 words and with accompanying cover art (although they may have dropped that part of the demand now). I understand there is some talk that Warren Kinsella might be the chosen author for this rebuttal. The possibility that Maclean's readers might then have a claim against the BCHRT under s. 12 of the Charter will have to be discussed another day. Just kidding.

These demands probably sound pretty unobjectionable to a lot of people. Indeed, with a position like this, the students can claim, as they have, that they don't intend to silence anyone, to muzzle anyone. They're not suing Mark Steyn, after all; they just want their right to a reasonable response (I have never heard the legal basis for this "right" - just as I have never seen the legal basis for their claim that Maclean's has a "duty" to be fair and balanced). So, is their position clear, then? We are not censors. We do not want to shut anyone up. We only want Muslim Canadians to have their voices heard in Canada's largest news magazine, to correct all the hateful misinformation the magazine has been disseminating. Mark Steyn can go on ranting and raving all he wants, and we won't try to stop him. This is not about freedom of speech.

When I heard them repeat this position on television, I have to say I was shocked. Genuinely shocked. I will tell you why. These three are law students, correct? They are currently articling, which means they must have passed all their final exams, and are about to be called to the bar. Presumably they have demonstrated all the skills and their brains have imbibed all the knowledge needed to get through law school and find jobs. How, then, could they have failed to actually read the Code under which they are bringing a complaint?! Take a look at s. 37(2) of the BC Human Rights Code, where it says:

(2)If the member or panel determines that the complaint is justified, the member or panel
(a) must order the person that contravened this Code to cease the contravention and to refrain from committing the same or a similar contravention,

That is a mandatory injunction. An obligatory 'cease and desist' order. If the complainants win, the Tribunal has to order Maclean's to stop running 'Islamophobic' articles. Not just articles by Mark Steyn, mind you; they have to stop running those articles period. Goodbye Barbara Amiel. Now, you might respond that Steyn wouldn't be silenced, he would just have to pick his words more carefully. But think about it; the CIC is not just complaining about the excerpt from America Alone, but about a whole sheaf of Steyn's articles. It's pretty safe to assume that whatever Steyn has written about Islam in the last seven or so years would be considered offensive by the CIC. In the face of an injunction, then, he would either have to stop writing about Islam or stop obeying the dictates of his conscience as a writer.

The students may say they don't want to silence Mark Steyn or anyone else. Their complaint, if successful, will do just that. It can do no other. How could they not know this? I am asking that question honestly. How could they not have read the legislation? It's available free for anyone who wants to take a look. Are they so unconcerned with what they claim is an important legal and social issue? Honestly. Read the law, guys, and then go from there.