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January 14, 2008

About Those Canadian Human Rights Commissions

Over the weekend, the morons had an interesting discussion about Ezra Levant's experience with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission. Levant was the editor of the Western Standard when it reprinted several of the cartoons that various Islamic populations around the world used as an excuse to riot and kill some people. By posting the video he took of his meeting with the commission's investigator (against her advisement), we've been given an inside look at these inquisitions. You can go to his site to see all of his videos and what he has to say about each one.

Canadian Human Rights Commissions have been getting a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately, especially after Mark Steyn and Maclean’s got hailed into three different complaint processes for writing and publishing an article that one Canadian Islamic group claims could potentially subject them to hatred. I'm sorry I missed the discussion here this weekend (I took the weekend off from blogging to work on a new writing project) but there were a few things I wanted to comment on.

Before I get started, I want to make clear that I have not made an extensive study of Canadian law or human rights law in general. My experience with and study of foreign and international law is directed at immigration issues and the law of international armed conflict. So if you have a specific issue that you'd like to bring up with a human rights commission, I suggest you find a lawyer. That said, there are some questions that I thought needed fuller treatment.

First, several morons discussed why this can happen in a place that appears to constitutionally protect freedom of expression. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms describes "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication" as "fundamental freedoms."

Unfortunately for Canadians, under the Charter fundamental freedoms may be ignored by the government in certain situations. That's how they wrote their law:

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Since they were established, the various Canadian human rights commissions have relied on this section to justify applying sanctions in situations where Americans would have immediately cried "free speech" or "freedom of religion." This is how most Canadians want things to be.

The recent attention should be a reminder to Americans that no matter that they live right next door and (mostly) speak the same language, they are not like us. They do not, for the most part, cherish the same political and legal traditions we do, and that is their own doing.

Second, what can Levant do? Well, he has to do what he's doing now. Some have suggested that Mark Steyn and Maclean's should refuse to acknowledge the complaint against them or submit to an investigation. As an act of civil disobedience, I approve because I believe the way the commission is being used is immoral. But sitting this fight out is probably not going to help Steyn, Maclean's, or Levant unless they are willing to accept whatever punishment the human rights commissions choose. They are empowered to conduct their investigations and recommend sanctions in absentia and it will be a much greater pain in the tail to pursue appeals at that point.

Aside from his legal options, and the excellent public relations strategy of publishing video of his inquisition, there's not much Levant can do except possibly move to the U.S., eventually apply for naturalization, drop his Canadian citizenship, and stop working for a Canadian magazine. That goes for Steyn too, unfortunately.

Third, is there anything we can do? Not really. I'm sure Levant, Steyn, and the magazines appreciate all the moral support they are getting. To my knowledge, none of the above are collecting funds to help with legal expenses (someone get back to me if I'm wrong about that).

Some of the morons suggested filing counter-complaints. I wouldn't really suggest that as a viable option. Despite the appearance that the Islamic complainants just drafted quicky, fill-in-the box forms, their involvement in this process will be protracted and, at least in the case of Steyn, involve quite a few lawyers (in other words, it's expensive). Also, some of the commissions require that you are Canadian or have a sufficient connection to their jurisdiction before you make a complaint. Finally, these commissions are not good subjects of drive-by complaints, especially because it is possible that they will respond to what they view as abuse of process with monetary penalties.

That doesn't leave us with a whole lot to do except take a breath and thank our lucky stars that we are Americans. (If you're not, you have my condolences. Get here quick...if you can. Of the Republican candidates, it looks like John McCain's your man, but that's another post.) Remember that this is how Canadians wanted things to be. We should point out their folly and offer an example of a better way.

Fourth, will this happen in the United States? In some places, it already has.

The [Pittsburgh] Commission on Human Relations studies and investigates complaints of alleged discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and civil rights practices involving City employees and any conditions having an adverse effect on intergroup relations in the city.

Note the emphasis on "intergroup relations." These commissions are about identity politics more than anything else. As the Canadian Charter makes clear, these folks think that some individual rights must be limited so as to protect group rights. This is nothing new for the morons so I won't insult anyone by going on about it.

There is hope for us at least. Despite the common conservative refrain that the courts are reinterpreting their way through the Constitution on their journey to national suicide, U.S. law has proved to be quite robust, especially when it comes to freedom of speech and religion (guns and government searches, not so much, but we're making slow progress). And commissions like Pittsburgh's have not widely caught on outside of liberal strongholds like large urban areas with frequent interracial conflicts and universities.

To that end, let Levant's and Steyn's experiences in their home country be a lesson to us. We can do better than Canada.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 04:28 AM

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