An attempt to have a Canadian panel stifle Mark Steyn poses a threat to American freedom of speech, the conservative columnist says.
The Canadian author told The Washington Times in a telephone interview that the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) agreeing to investigate a Muslim complaint against him opens a new front on threats to Canadians' press and religious freedom: speech that originates in the United States.
"There are attempts to circumscribe the First Amendment, and certain groups have become very adept at using legal and quasi-legal methods to restrict discussion and what's discussed," said Mr. Steyn, who spends half the year living in New Hampshire and writes for several U.S.-based publications.
Under Canadian law, the CHRC investigates purported incidents of hate speech and discrimination and refers some to the quasi-judicial Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which can impose fines or issue restraint orders.
Mr. Steyn became subject to a CHRC investigation last month when the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) complained about an excerpt Mr. Steyn had reprinted from "America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It," Mr. Steyn's best-seller published by U.S.-based Regnery Publishing.
Mr. Steyn told The Times that the complaint endangers freedom of the press on both sides of the border, and that both he and Maclean's are prepared to fight this case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary.
"Basically, everything is fair game if it was to become accepted that the commission has the right to weight the merits of individual articles and the media," Mr. Steyn said. "The [Canadian and provincial] commissions are a threat to free speech, which is why people on various parts of the spectrum have identified them as the easiest way to shut down an opponent's speech that one does not like."
Left unchecked, Mr. Steyn said the CHRC could bring about a relationship between the state and the press similar to that of the former Soviet Union, in which "basically the state regulates the bounds of public expression."
Citing previous cases, Mr. Steyn noted both that no accused has ever won a case once the CHRC referred it to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and that truth is not a defense when dealing with the commission or the tribunal.
Whereas facts, quotes and statistics may be accurately cited by the author, what the commissions bases its judgment upon is whether the person reading it is offended.
"Offense is in the eye of the beholder," Mr. Steyn said. "A fact can be accurate, but offensive to some people. The commissions aren't weighing facts but hurt feelings."
Another danger raised by Mr. Steyn is that a First Amendment defense does not apply in Canada, despite the article's being an excerpt from a larger work originally published in the U.S. The Times is among numerous U.S. papers that run Mr. Steyn's syndicated column.
"The one case I know where a Christian responded by filing a complaint against an individual who had defamed him, the CHRC refused to hear the complaint," he said.
The selectivity of the cases referred to the human rights tribunal by the CHRC is also disconcerting to Paul Tuns, editor of the Interim, Canada's largest pro-life monthly newspaper with a circulation of approximately 34,000.
"There seems to be a trend where Christians and conservatives are always on the losing side," he said.
Like Mr. Steyn, Mr. Tuns is concerned that a state apparatus is giving its stamp of approval to certain views over those it deems politically incorrect.
Kathy Shaidle, a Canadian blogger popular with U.S. audiences, called the CHRC case against Mr. Steyn an extension of the case involving Scott Brockie, the Christian owner of a small printer who was fined thousands of dollars after declining for religious reasons to print a leaflet promoting homosexuality.
"Canada's human rights commissions have been used to silence, censor and bankrupt conservative Christians for years now, and the Canadian establishment has shrugged, because they don't care for conservative Christians either," Miss Shaidle said. "Now that members of said establishments are the ones being hauled into the star chamber, the mainstream media is finally speaking out."
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