In an earlier post, Emsworth commented on a charge of “exposing Muslims to hatred or contempt” that had been lodged against journalist Mark Steyn by Muslim activists before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal. It was based on an article published in MacLean’s, a popular Canadian magazine, on the demographic implications of immigration from the Arab world.
Steyn’s trial ended in early June amidst widespread outcry and outrage that a Canadian journalist was in danger of being punished merely for saying things some people didn’t like. No doubt recognizing that the case (and their tribunal) had become a national embarrassment, it took the three judges four months to figure out what to do with it. On Friday, October 10, 2008, they issued a long, heavily self-serving decision.
Bottom line: the charge has been dismissed. Steyn has been — well, not exactly vindicated, because the tribunal still thought he had behaved badly, and said so. Nevertheless, Steyn is at least out of danger of being punished for nothing more than expressing inconvenient views on an difficult public issue. The decision, which is written largely in thought-paralyzing “diversity” jargon, can been read in full at this link.
Clearly some people are hopelessly confused as to why we value free speech. A 1989 decision from the Supreme Court of Canada, quoted by the tribunal, says that the right of free speech flows from — guess what! — “diversity.” (In the peculiar theology of multiculturalism, there is no good thing on earth that does not flow from “diversity.”) According to the author of that decision, “we prize a diversity of ideas and opinions for their inherent value both to the community and to the individual.”
Of course, no one believes such rubbish. Obviously, a lot of opinions are dreck. We don’t “prize” worthless ideas or ugly opinions; we tolerate them. And the reason we tolerate them is that the alternative — censorship — is deadly to a free society. We know that giving judges or “tribunals” the right to judge the worth of a speech or a magazine article virtually guarantees that there will be abuses.
So Mark Steyn is off the hook (for now). But the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal wasn’t happy with him, and its long decision has nothing nice to say about him. “[T]he panel accepts that [sic] the Article contains numerous factual, historical, and religious inaccuracies about Islam and Muslims,” the judges said. Steyn’s article “used common stereotypes.” (I’ve read the article; it just isn’t so.) It was “clear” to the judges that the complainants “were deeply offended by the Article and its contents;” “we accept that many would share their views.” Steyn is said to have expressed “strong, polemical, and, at times, glib opinions about Muslims,” opinions that “many would, and did find objectionable and disagreeable.” (The judges were clearly among those who found Steyn’s views disagreeable.)
The three judges even faulted Steyn because his article “contains few scholarly trappings.” (What did they expect? Footnotes? MacLean’s is a popular magazine, not a scholarly journal.) The judges even criticized MacLean’s itself for publishing an editorial “critical of the complainants and the human rights process.” (We thought that, at the very least, free speech meant the freedom to comment on how government is working! In fact, we thought that was the most important aspect of free speech.)
Only reluctantly did the judges concede that Steyn’s piece was an expression of opinion on political issues that were “legitimate subjects for public discussion.” Their hearts clearly weren’t in it, but they also felt bound to quote a 1998 Supreme Court of Canada decision acknowledging that the Canadian system “is predicated on the faith that in the marketplace of ideas, the best solutions to public problems will rise to the top.”
The Tribunal complained that Steyn and Maclean’s failed to call any evidence at the hearing and thus failed to discuss the “truth” of the assertions in Steyn’s article or “his reasons for writing it, or the basis for the opinions he expressed in it.” What did the judges think? That they, the judges, had time to hear and weigh all the possible evidence bearing on the enormously complex issue of immigration from the Islamic world? That the three of them were wise enough to settle the issue once and for all? What arrogance!
For refusing to rise to the bait, of course, Steyn and Maclean’s are to be commended. The battle for free speech is lost before it is begun if a man is obliged to “explain” or defend his opinions to the government.