Saturday, January 26, 2008

Red Star vs. Mop and Wail: Free Speech, Canadian style

Well, they're coming late to the party, but maybe the tide is turning when even the Toronto (red) Star allows a column to grumble about free speech. But note the title of journalism prof Kelly Toughill's piece: Censorship not the answer. Not the answer to what? Well, I imagine that would be to the fantasized Utopia that is the real driver of left-liberal (Gnostic) thought. Anyway, a few excerpts:
Ezra Levant is a tough guy to defend. In general, he cherishes everything I abhor, and abhors everything I cherish. Still, he is mostly right in his quixotic battle against the Alberta Human Rights Commission.
The guy is completely abhorrent to you? Well, are we really going to take anyone who engages is such apotropaic gestures - casting out demons - seriously on a question of free speech? (That's an interesting question, I think - what does it tell us about the sacrificial rituals that we still seemingly need in order to guarantee our freedom...)
The issue is not whether Levant should have published the cartoons, or whether Maclean's has been fair in depicting Muslims. The issue is who gets to decide what the press can publish and what the public gets to read.

We should not give government that power. Human rights commissions are created by government legislation. Members are appointed by politicians. The criteria and standards they enforce are set by politicians.
Close, but in fact the legislated criteria and standards they enforce have been heavily influenced by judicial and in-house, closed door, "human rights" tribunal decisions. The purpose of all this lawyer busy-bodying, it seems to me, is to enable judges and lawyers to prove that they are great metaphysical gymnasts capable of balancing competing rights and freedoms, even if it means that innovative speech must constantly worry it could be put through the grinder of judicial review, at great expense of time and money. The great balancing the judges dream about, in the fantasy of a perfect judicial weighing (and woe to those who would upset the perfect balance), can only come at the expense of injecting chunks of cholesterol into the networks of exchange on which a free society depends so heavily if it is to find new ways to transcend its ever-grinding, eroding, resentments, and preserve its freedom.
The acts also say they shouldn't interfere with freedom of expression, but they already have. It is time-consuming and expensive to defend yourself against a human rights complaint, even if the complaint is eventually dismissed. All three human rights agencies are still in the preliminary stages of the complaint process. None has been referred for formal hearings.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association founder Alan Borovoy is one of Levant's defenders.

"I was involved in campaigns to create the human rights commissions," he says. "It never occurred to any of us that human rights commissions would be used to muzzle the free expression of ideas."

Levant is wrong to focus his wrath on the human rights commissions themselves. They are simply following their mandate, following the law. The responsibility for fixing this problem lies with their political masters.
Now, at this point, I'm almost in agreement with the writer, after her opening rituals of disassociation, but I think Ezra is quite right to detest anyone who sits on these thought crime tribunals. Pretty much any job in the country is more noble nowadays. And yet, Levant's interrogator still assumed a handshake would be forthcoming to her after "following her mandate". I guess at the Toronto (red) Star, they haven't yet learned that fascism is always about "just following orders" (here's the extreme case) with middle-class sincerity and respectability.

So, that's my casting out for you. Still Toughill is right that after chapter one in Ezra's story we must all move on to the crux of the issue: our freedom to act politically and to tell the politicians to change the thought-crime-engendering legislation.

Now let's turn to another Toronto newspaper, that figures itself the official voice of Canada's liberal and professional elites. I don't often tout the Globe and Mail, it usually being too busy helping to insure that the risks of a free society are always carefully measured and regulated by the mutually-accrediting professional classes. But today, behind their online subscription wall, we find a neat weekly column from one of the few freedom fighters on the payroll, Mr. Rex Murphy. You might want to go out and buy a copy of the print edition. But since maybe you can't, and because we want to make some fair comment, here are some excerpts:
Our esteemed human rights commissions are so busy these days, it worries me.

The number of these gimlet-eyed scrutineers is, after all, finite.

There is, therefore, only a limited store of and moral fervour for them to call upon. In a brutish world, righteousness is not inexhaustible; virtue, like oil, has its peak moments and, with their current agenda, Canada's HRCs may run out of fuel.
Alberta's Human Rights Commission, one of the keenest, a noble avatar of those old censor boards that used to guard public libraries from "steamy" literature and "brazen" language, is trying to contain - I think that is the only proper verb here - Ezra Levant.

Mr. Levant has, as the jargon expresses it, "gone before" the commission to answer for the putative crime, offence, tastelessness of his (now defunct) magazine, the Western Standard's publication of the Mohammed cartoons. But even the sturdiest tribunal can summon forces too large for it to manage. And even the deepest probing commissioner, alert as a tuning-fork to the harmonies of political correctness, should have quailed before the thought of putting Ezra Levant under state-mandated interrogation.

His initial hearing is an Internet hit. He videotaped it, you see, and against the urgings of the commission placed in on the World Wide Web.

His performance, a marathon aria to free speech, looks to outpace even Jessica Alba beach footage as a web draw. More than 400,000 visitors have YouTubed Mr. Levant (A Daniel, I say, a Daniel come to judgment on Canadian free speech!). He is as a tidal wave breaking against a lone and solitary craft.
do they really want - after Ezra's example, mind you - to call Mark Steyn, the Victoria Falls ("The Smoke that Thunders") of prolific columnists - into one of their style-less chambers to "explain himself?" If Mr. Levant contains multitudes, how to describe Mr. Steyn? He is a prodigy of immense resource and industry. Compared to him, Trollope was a slacker, Dickens a wastrel, and Proust a miniaturist. He inundates. Books, columns, blogs and obiter dicta in a thousand venues - If Mr. Steyn goes before one or all of these commissions, he will be firing off columns between questions. He'll write a column on a question while it is being asked. I urge our guardians to consider their own interests:

Stay a while before essaying this profitless and useless venture.
this is too much at one time for the meticulous and tidy tribunals that alone are our guardians against every stray thought that might fracture our fabulously delicate Canadian sensibilities. While they are preoccupied with Steyn-Levant, overwhelmed, exhausted and undone by Steyn-Levant, battered, borne-down on and befuddled
by Steyn-Levant - who will watch out for us?

Who will there be to read before we read, and tell us what is proper for us? Who will be there to edit the editors, to copy check the copy checkers? Who will shield our vulnerable law-students, and who will tend to the commission's most industrious serial complainant. There is one person, so eggshell brittle that he has drummed up a fierce amount of business for the HRCs. Is so loyal a customer now to be ignored because the Steyn-Levant tsunami is about to rumble mercilessly on shore?

Mostly I fear, If the HRCs are tied up, Canadians will be reading, unguided, what they choose to read, deciding for themselves what they like and what they don't, will discard a book or pass it to a friend, like a column or curse one - lit only by the light of their own reason.

The horror!
Now why can't journalism schools produce more free-minded contempt like that?

What I fear is that this will all somehow blow over - most of those Youtube hits on Ezra's stand came from outside Canada, I have read - and we will go back to being normal good Canadians, people who defer to judges and tribunals to negotiate our differences, because we don't have the courage or energy to realize that it is each of us who owns our vaunted "multicultural" society, that it is we who get to decide, by dint of our aggregated daily interactions, what cultural multiples thrive and what gets marginalized in this country, free to follow its own marginality except for what is a clearly violent threat to others. Let's start phoning the politicians, and see if they know what Rex Murphy is talking about. Serial complainer?

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