In our homeschool curriculum we’re about to tackle Orwell’s 1984. I read it in high school, and the two things that stuck with me are its general creepiness and Big Brother. The thought police had arrived, and there was no escape.
Thank goodness we live in Canada where we have the freedom to say and think whatever we want to, right?
In Canada it may not be 1984 yet, but I still think it’s a balmy June day in 1981. We’re inching towards Big Brother, but it’s so lovely out that nobody notices.
For proof of this, look no farther than the provincial and federal “Human Rights Commissions”, which, in a classic case of doublethink, actually erode basic rights. Light has suddenly been poured onto these dark enclaves of our government because of two recent high profile cases. In the first, an Edmonton imam submitted a complaint against Ezra Levant, publisher of the now-defunct Western Standard magazine, for printing the infamous Danish Muhammad cartoons. In the second case, four Muslim law students submitted a complaint against Maclean’s magazine for publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s book America Alone, which, incidentally, was one of the bestselling books in Canada last year. It outlines the threat of sharia law expanding due to basic demographic trends. Levant testified before the Alberta Human Rights Commission on January 11 (you can watch the amazing videos at www.ezralevant.com), while the Maclean’s case is still pending.
What’s likely to happen to Ezra and Maclean’s? If history is any lesson, they will be convicted, because Levant has calculated that the Alberta and federal commissions have a 100% conviction rate for these type of “crimes”.
And what, exactly, are they convicted of? Here’s where it gets even scarier. The commissioners just need to believe that someday, someone may be motivated to violence because of what they wrote. As some commentators have said, it’s like the “pre-crime” division in the movie Minority Report. Nothing has happened yet, but you’re still guilty. What amazes me about Levant’s case, in particular, is that the cartoons did cause violence—but not by non-Muslims. Radical Muslims killed over them around the world, and the cartoonists had to go into hiding. The complaint, then, seems a little backwards.
To make these convictions even more sinister, the commissions don’t even operate by our general rules of evidence. There is no presumption of innocence. There is no right to face your accuser or to cross-examination. The commissions aren’t even staffed by judges, or even necessarily by lawyers. And the complainants get their cases tried on the taxpayers’ dime, while the plaintiffs have to pay, even if they win (which they don’t).
Sounds pretty awful so far, right? Here’s where it gets scarier. When this issue is discussed on the internet, or the news, or even among my acquaintances, I often hear people blandly say, “freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom to offend.” Actually, it does. And it has to, or else it has no meaning at all. No one has to fight for the freedom to say things that everybody agrees with; it is only offensive speech that needs protection. And it was offensive speech that got women the vote. It was offensive speech that ended segregation. But it wasn’t offensive speech that caused the Holocaust! That occurred only after the Nazis eroded basic rights, so that nobody could protest. It is not freedom of speech that causes violence, but the lack of freedom of speech. Basic freedoms guard our liberty.
The correct response in a free country to hearing something offensive is to ridicule it, ostracize the speaker, or make an articulate argument against it. As soon as you try to silence it, everyone will always wonder, “what are you so afraid of?” So let’s debate, people! We have the right to.
When these cases have run their courses, though, the commissions can order Levant and Steyn to apologize, even though real courts have ruled that it is “cruel and unusual punishment” to force convicted murderers like Paul Bernardo to apologize to the families of their actual victims. Levant insists that he will “rot in hell” before he complies. Well, Ezra, there is something rotting in Canada, but it certainly isn’t you.
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