Thoughts from New York
I was travelling all day Wednesday to make it to New York for yesterday’s fascinating conference on free speech in the age of jihad.
My topic was Canada’s human rights commissions, and how they have been hijacked by an alliance between domestic, politically correct leftists, and foreign-born, reactionary jihadis. It’s that awful combination that has turned Canada’s human rights commissions into instruments for the secular prosecution of Islamic fatwas.
I was amazed and impressed with how many Americans have been following the misconduct of Canadian HRCs, and how many people were well-briefed about Richard Warman and even Shirlene McGovern, my Alberta HRC interrogator. I also met activists, think tankers, journalists and bloggers like Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs, who has some pictures and video of the day. I even met donors to my legal defence fund, which was great. The whole thing left me with a deep feeling of gratitude towards America and its commitment to freedom.
Two great lunches
Mark Steyn's luncheon speech was hilarious and powerful – in fact, his use of humour is one of the reasons that we’re winning this battle, especially against opponents who have had their senses of humour surgically removed. In this obscene press release, Barbara Hall of the Ontario HRC reminds everyone why, despite the flaws of their more recent mayors, Torontonians threw her out of office. She is the dictionary definition of the word “dour”, and I hope that she and her type continue their self-defeating attempts to stop the HRCs’ PR spiral. When they’re laughing at you, Barbara, you’ve lost. That’s why Steyn’s so effective, and why I like Rick Mercer’s rant on the subject, too.
Speaking of luncheons, I spent the better part of today at Peter Luger’s, and I have a few other important visits to make. There are so many great restaurants in New York that one is tempted to have all seven squares a day – first breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, etc.
Publishing – and republishing – an offensive comment
I want to address a quick point that some of my commenters have asked me to do. On Wednesday night, after a day in transit to New York, I finally logged on to the Internet to catch up on the day's excitement. I quickly approved 74 comments that were waiting on my post on the Warman lawsuit -- including a long rant by some anonymous commenter that I didn't read all the way through carefully enough. I approved that comment and the other 73, because I didn't spot any grotesque profanity or anti-Semitism (or anti-Tibetan propaganda from the People's Liberation Army) that I usually skim for. The next day, though, a friend sent me a note pointing out that the long ranting comment I approved had some sort of threat towards Warman in it. I re-read it, and took it down. I’m opposed to speech that exhorts violence – it’s where I draw the line between merely offensive speech and a crime. I know enough about the criminal definition of a death threat to know that the comment in question likely wouldn’t meet the legal test, but it was at the very least not the sort of thing that I want on my website. I’ll save the exhortations to commit assault and battery to Warman himself.
It was a trifle – the sort of thing that happens when you’re rushed and have 50 or 100 comments a day. But two things happened. The first was expected: Warren Kinsella, Warman’s friend, lived up to his growing reputation as a rage-a-holic, implying that I myself was calling for Warman’s death. Uh, nope – but when even the Toronto Star is opposed to human rights commission censorship, there’s not a lot for Kinsella to hang his hat on these days.
But the second thing was unexpected: Kinsella’s buddy "Dr. Dawg" (I don’t know who he is – it could be another pseudonym used by Dean Steacy, or even Warman himself) republished the “death threat” comment on his own website. It was styled as a criticism of me, but didn’t he just do – on purpose and permanently – what I had done inadvertently for a few hours? If it was inappropriate for me to briefly have that comment up, why is it okay for “Dr. Dawg” to continue to have it up, and Kinsella to link to it?
The Danish cartoons
I don’t think I’d normally respond to what “Dr. Dawg” says, but it made me think that this is an absurdity or hypocrisy common to many of the censors: if words are now “crimes”, how can you even talk about them, or investigate them, without committing that crime yourself?
Let’s start with the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s attempt to censor the Western Standard’s publication of the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. The cartoons were an act of expression of their artists and publishers, but then they became a news artifact themselves. They stopped telling a story and became a story themselves. It was in that context that the Western Standard published them in 2006 – and was charged.
But what does that mean? That we are not allowed to refer to an empirical fact in a news report? Does that mean any reporter who cites a newsworthy item – a book, a speech, a comment, a cartoon, or even quotes a hateful person as part of a report – is morally or legally tainted with the meaning of the artifacts reported in that news item? That just doesn’t make sense. We can understand the proper distinction instantly with real crimes – we know that reporters who cover murder trials are not in league with the murderer, any more than the murderer’s own lawyers are.
An even clearer example is the absurd human rights cases against Maclean’s magazine and Mark Steyn. Many of the purportedly offensive or “Islamophobic” aspects of those complaints are not about comments made by Steyn himself, but rather comments made by leading mullahs around the world – but Steyn and Maclean’s are “Islamophobic” for daring to have reprinted them.
That’s the reverse of “Dr. Dawg’s” complaint with me. In my case, he says I shouldn’t have permitted the offensive comment about Warman (he’s right, though his questioning of my motives shows his desperation and bad faith) but it’s apparently fine for him to publish the same material purposefully and permanently. In Steyn’s case, the mullahs can say embarrassing things about Islam, but Maclean’s isn’t allowed to report it.
Anti-hate bureaucrats writing hateful things
Which brings us to the conduct of Richard Warman and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Last month, Dean Steacy, a CHRC “anti-hate” investigator, acknowledged that he and other CHRC staffers, including Warman, were not exempt from the prohibitions against hate speech – yet both of them went online and did just that. Under a sign saying ”White revolution – the only solution”, Warman wrote “I agree. Keep up the good work”, and signed off with Nazi shorthand for “heil Hitler.” On another post, Warman wrote that gays were “sexual deviants” who were a “cancer”.
Why is it legally okay for Warman and Steacy to join the white supremacist group Stormfront, and post bigoted remarks like that, but it’s not okay for other Stormfront members to do the same – even at the provocation of Steacy and Warman?
Do intentions matter?
The CHRC’s defenders might argue that it’s all about the intentions behind the publication – that Warman and Steacy didn’t really mean those bigoted remarks, they were doing it as some sort of weird “commit a thought crime to stop a thought crime” logic. But that’s not what section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act says. Intentions have nothing to do with it – it’s whether what you publish could expose someone to feelings of hate. What Warman and Steacy published meets that test regardless of what their intentions or excuses were.
A charge without a defence
In fact, the logic of section 13 is almost impossible to defend against – certainly, truth is no defence, for the truth or falsehood of a publication has nothing to do with whether or not someone can feel “hatred” after reading or hearing it. Judged against both the letter and the spirit of the law, not only are Warman’s and Steacy’s postings illegal thought crimes, but even the weird, self-destructive PR conference call that the CHRC big-wigs hastily arranged last week was illegal, too. That was the call where CHRC counsel Ian Fine started off by… reading out a litany of bigoted words, including n*gger. Perhaps Fine, the commission’s top lawyer, should read section 13 again – there is no exemption there to permit anti-Black, anti-Semitic bigotry in a press conference. What he did was illegal.
Even Kinsella repeatedly violates section 13. His own website is littered with swastikas – and one of his books has a swastika on the cover, too. Of course, a sensible person would see the context there – Kinsella is critical of Naziism. But, again, section 13 allows no such reasonable explanation. If a symbol could “likely” cause someone to feel “hatred or contempt” for another, it’s illegal. (Kinsella himself makes such a spurious and unethical charge against Steyn, by taking his use of various pejorative terms out of context; but Kinsella should not be our standard for ethics.)
We all know this is ridiculous. As Steyn has pointed out, to try to apply this impossible standard to all communication would result in the shutting down of, for example, every music store in America that contains rap lyrics with the word n*gger.
So what does it all mean?
No sane person would pretend that all utterances of the same words mean the same thing. Intentions mean a lot. Even the same physical act means different things with different intentions – bumping up against someone in a crowded alley is morally and legally different than purposefully assaulting them, though the deed is the same. An anti-racism pamphlet that uses the word n*gger is obviously not the act of racism that the use of that word by a Klansman might be. But Canada’s illiberal, censorious human rights laws don’t make that distinction – though Steacy, Warman and Fine might wish it were so if they’re ever charged for their bigoted words.
Even my own HRC interrogatrix, Shirlene McGovern, wanted to know what my “intentions” were behind publishing the cartoons – though the Alberta statute is as silent on intentions as is the federal one.
At yesterday’s conference, I was asked if I would ever file a human rights thought crime complaint against my tormentors – including HRC staff themselves. I said I would not, because I do not believe in using an immoral government agency that conducts illegal censorship through unfair processes. I don’t want that abusive agency to be a wild animal under my control. Unlike Kinsella, I’m just not an “ends justify the means” kind of guy. But, even if I were, I’d realize that while I might have a few “victories” over my opponents who occasionally make misogynistic or other bigoted remarks, I’d be creating legal and moral precedents for my own undoing later. One day, that wild animal will be controlled by someone else – as George Jonas reminds us, Hitler didn’t have to create censorship laws, he inherited them from the Weimar Republic that preceded him.
I believe the human rights commissions should be abolished, not legitimized. But I wouldn’t be surprised if others who are not as gentle or patient as I am start filing complaints against Warman, Steacy, Fine and others in the so-called “anti-hate” movement, just to give them a taste of their own medicine. But, given the CHRC’s illegal tapping of a private citizen’s Internet service, I think that a human rights complaint may soon be the smallest of their legal troubles.