Michael Coren is a smart guy; yes, some of the things he says get my blood pressure up because he has a habit of playing devil's advocate with his guests and thus, in apparent seriousness, logically controverts positions he has previously adamantly held. But still, he says a lot of wise things.
Yet I just watched a youtube of his recent discussion of the Alberta Court's decision on the Stephen Boissoin/Alberta "Human Rights" Commission case - that great travesty of justice, perhaps the greatest scandal to legal due process and justice in Canadian history - and the common sense of Coren and his guests (well he does have one righteous guest, described as an "activist", without the sense to think other than that she knows just which kind of "hate" speech should be sanctioned with fines, as if she could never be on the wrong side of the powers that be in Canada, but I digress...) strikes me as nonsense.
Their common sense goes like this: well, sure we've now (in the light of Boissoin, Steyn, Levant, et. al.) learned the lesson that Human Rights Commissions should not be allowed to go anywhere near the policing of freedom of expression, because the Commisisons have been proven to be staffed by ideologues, arbitrarily asserting the power of the state in their official pronouncements, and with no ability to respect legal due process (for both personal and institutional reasons). But nonetheless, the argument goes, Human Rights Commissions are a good thing if they stick to their original purpose, which was, supposedly, to protect people who have been "discriminated" against in the pursuit of empoyment of housing.
Now even if one believes that business owners and rental property owners should not have the right to "discriminate" (whatever the many things that can mean in practice) in the exercise of their property rights (which don't exist in any full sense in Canada, I'll admit) - I don't believe we should hold this as any kind of general rule but this is a topic for another day - why is it that much of Canadian public opinion maintains the common sense that Commisions and Tribunals, which they admit are incapable of providing justice or due process in respect to "hate speech" or "free speech", are nonetheless at least minimally capable of doing so in other areas?
People like Coren argue that people who have been discriminated against in fields of employment or rental housing can't go to the courts because it's too expensive for them, in most cases, so there needs to be free recourse to "human rights" commissions. I'm wondering why, if people are so concerned about the rights of the poor, they don't just argue well, instead of publicly funding the large "human rights" industry in Canada, with its thousands of employees, we don't just hire a few more judges and lawyers and provide those with prima facie plausible complaints of "discrimination" free legal representation to make their case in a proper court of law, with all the protections of due process and all the standards of evidence and logic the courts uphold? It's assumed this would be much more expensive, but I'm not sure that this wouldn't turn out to be cheaper to the taxpayer than the present "human rights" bureaucracies, given the amount of invidious discrimination in Canada; but even if it weren't cheaper, why are we not willing to pay the price for full and proper due process for all?
I think people don't raise this kind of question because, at the end of the day, "common sense" in Canada remains of the view that poor people, and - in the awful PC expression - "people of colour", who feel victimized should have an easier time attacking businesses and the propertied classes than the latter should have defending their interests. It's ok if a McDonald's franchise owner gets his property rights (such as they are in Canada) lynched by some "human rights" official who gets to adjudicate an employee's complaint, based on the whims of her victimary "common sense" (I won't try to argue the point now, but I think it would be foolish to believe that our "human rights" law has developed a truly disinterested system of adjudication and procedure); but yes, it is a supreme scandal if Stephen Boissoin is told he can't make any "disparaging" remarks about homosexuals for the rest of his life.
Why is this "common sense", even on a "conservative" talk show like Michael Coren's? The despairing side of me thinks it is because those public "conservatives", or classical liberals, who have gotten used to appeasing the gods of our reigning victimary ideologies, still feel they can hold on to some more rigorous defense of freedom of expression. Perhaps they don't find this so difficult to do because "free speech" is still for some on the left a respectable rhetorical cause - the left who forever frill in declaring themselves, amidst the ideological near conformity of the universities, "public service" unions, and "activist" "communities", brave enemies/victims of some mythical "McCarthyism". This would be notwithstanding that, in much daily practice, political correctness and victimary ideology is pretty much all that the left ever any longer talks about and so its authority in such matters is something fiercely defended. And so the idea that maybe, say, a Jewish business owner should have the right to choose not to employ a Muslim (given fears, reasonable or not, of Islamic antisemitism) is yet unimaginable. How dare I even imagine it!!
Or maybe what I'm talking about is just the pragmatic common sense that in this day and age you can't really shut people up on the internet - and it's best just to ignore all those with bad ideas, as we are mostly all so instantly forgettable nowadays - unless you're going to sign on to the most appallingly transparent forms of arbtrary "justice", and use sledge hammers against ants; and that kind of performance just isn't good for anyone's political causes.
More generally, I think the problem is that few in Canada today have any coherent conception of what a human right is or where it comes from. Of course we're not alone, at a time when we hear about Germany imprisoning fathers who refuse to send their children to "sex education" classes that the state, with no sense of humour, no sense that it has become the all-consuming Nanny - calls "My Body Belongs to Me" (HT: Walker). Or when we hear about the great expense to which the Australian "human rights" authorities have gone to rule that a woman does not have the right to offer women-only vacation tours, (HT: Catfur) on the grounds that these would be discriminatory to men (as if that weren't their very point, as if discrimination might not sometimes be a good thing, an idea they seem to have been programmatically incapable of considering).
But again I digress. We have no hard conception of where human rights come from absent some conception of how any aspect of culture is generated, anthropologically. The great value of Generative Anthropology, as I have variously suggested at this blog, is that it provides a rigorous hypothesis (or now, perhaps, hypotheses) of how language or culture could ever have come into existence in the first place, and how this necessarily shared, public, scenic process of our coming into being is re-presented through time, giving us the historical processes in which we have come to discover or develop things like "human rights".
The basic idea of GA is that all culture is engendered as the means by which humans defer their conflicts, in order that they not turn unnecessarily violent. In other words, culture, freedom, rights, come into being because we collectively renounce, or defer appropriation, of some common object of desire. Freedom emerges from collective restraint, from equal sharing in the signs of desire/restraint. We have "human rights" to the extent we have developed the due processes by which no individual, nor any institution of state, can stop us from exercising them. Due process is not some mere means to the provision of justice. It is absolutely integral to it. If we think the case of some poor "victim" is so compelling that we can do away with expensive and time-consuming legal processes, what are the chances that our resulting Lynch mob will ever develop a firm understanding of justice as a process for deferring everyone's violent desires, instead of just a way of buying into one or another scapegoating myth of who is good and who is evil?
But when we begin to imagine a state that should promise us things the state cannot in reality possibly provide, such as an "end to discrimination" (as if our lynching of McDonald's franchisees, or "homophobes", or "hatemongers" were not itself an arbitrary or mythic form of disrimination) or "equality of outcomes" or "personal fulfillment", we are developing a notion of "human rights" that is not grounded in any rigorous conception of anthropological realities. We are instead developing a Gnostic religion that rejects the normal, the established "hegemony", rejects this fallen world, as somehow insufficient to the perfect vision we must somehow bring into being, by hook or by crook. The fact that "a world without discrimination" is a Utopian idea that can make little sense of any imaginable reality (we can change the bases for discrimination in society, but we must always discriminate in some ways among people) is not of interest to the present "human rights" crowd.
This is all by way of recommending you take a look at how John Robson has argued such a point about our indulgence in "metaphysicial madness", at the recent Free Speech and Liberty Symposium in Ottawa (ht again to The Blog of Walker):