The thought police blink! — Mark Steyn vindicated

Mark Steyn

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.

Dark days for freedom of speech in Canada

Have you heard about the Mark Steyn case? Two years ago, the Canadian journalist published a book entitled America Alone, in which he (a) pointed out that the cultural views of many foreign Muslims are sharply incompatible with those of most Americans and Canadians and (b) drew the conclusion that, if nations in the West want to protect their values and their civil liberties, they need to curb immigration from Muslim countries. The Canadian magazine Maclean’s reprinted a chapter from the book, entitled “The Future Belongs to Islam.”


For this “crime,” incredibly, both Steyn and Maclean’s are being prosecuted in Canada. After a long trial that ended in early June, the defendants are waiting for a verdict from the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal as to whether they are guilty of insulting Muslims by publishing the piece. They face draconian financial penalties.

In Canada, it seems, there’s now a law that a person must not publish anything that exposes a group of people to “hatred or contempt.” Exploiting this vaguely worded statute, a Muslim organization in Canada has accused Maclean’s of committing a “hate crime” by publishing the article and some follow-up letters to the editor from readers who agree with Steyn.

You wouldn’t expect any tribunal in the United States or Canada to give such a complaint the time of day. Any high school civics student could see that that Steyn and Maclean’s were merely exercising free speech (which is protected under Canada’s Charter just as it is under our Bill of Rights.)

But the complaint wasn’t thrown out. Instead, it’s being prosecuted at government expense, while Steyn and Maclean’s have had to pay for their own lawyers. The case isn’t tried in a regular court, and the defendants don’t have the benefit of the rights customarily afforded to those charged with crimes. Ironically, considering that these are supposedly “human rights” proceedings, there are no rules of evidence — for example, no rules against hearsay.

Lay aside the glaring issues of freedom of speech and due process, if you can, and consider whether anyone could possibly deem Steyn’s piece “hate speech.” (Many commentators don’t seem to have actually read it, but you can judge for yourself. It’s still posted on the internet here.)

In fact, in the article, Steyn doesn’t rant or rave against Muslims. He doesn’t call them names, and he neither denigrates the Islam religion nor takes issue with any of its tenets. He says nothing about the oppression of women in many Muslim societies, nothing about the outrageous anti-Semitism that children are taught in many Islamic countries, nothing about polygamy, nothing about death penalties against Muslims who convert to other religions, nothing about Muslim women who are shunned after they are raped, nothing about clerics who urge believers to assassinate prominent novelists, nothing about barbaric criminal penalties for petty crimes.

Instead, the article focuses on demographics – the contrast between the dangerously low birthrates in many Western countries and the high birthrates in Muslim societies. Steyn points out the obvious: when large population segments identify themselves primarily as Muslim rather than as Dutch, French, American, or Canadian, there will be pressure on our societies to change and to compromise our values.

And Steyn makes his strongest points not by villifying Muslims, but by quoting them. Libya’s Colonel Gadhafi: “There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe — without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades.” A Norwegian imam: “We’re the ones who will change you. Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children. . . . .Our way of thinking will prove more powerful than yours.”

The defendants are not racist crackpots. Maclean’s is a weekly Canadian current-events magazine like Newsweek, not particularly conservative. Steyn is one of Canada’s best-known journalists; Emsworth has had the pleasure of reading him regularly in such respectable American publications as The Atlantic and National Review.

To their credit, many Canadians are up in arms about the case and the out-of-control Human Rights Commission. But the censors have plenty of defenders. The Toronto newspapers, for example, have dutifully editorialized on the case in favor of free speech — but they clearly feel that Steyn was out of line and should have left the subject alone.

That’s certainly what the members of the Ontario Human Rights Commission thought. Despite admitting in late June 2008 that it didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter, this government agency issued an official statement condemning Steyn’s article as “xenophobic”, “destructive”, “Islamophobic” and “promoting prejudice”. Earlier, one of the Commission’s principal investigators, asked about the value he puts on freedom of speech in his work, answered, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

Well, it is an American value; he was right about that. Today’s the Fourth of July, a good day to remind ourselves that in America, at least, free speech still means freedom to say things others would rather leave unsaid. (July 4, 2008)

UPDATE (October 19. 2008) — The complaint against Steyn has been dismissed! The thought police blinked! See this post.