Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Canada's Mortifying Trial

Americans generally pay little attention to what goes on in Canada. That's unfortunate, since in so many ways it is more like the U.S. than any other country. And, like any two very similar things, studying the differences can be instructive.

Canada is a land of immigrants, mostly of British ancestry with, of course, a good deal of French and some German, and many others. As a result, along with other factors, the country's citizens share many of America's values and ideals.

Not least of those, until recently, was placing a high value on the right of freedom of speech. Tragically, serious attacks on that fundamental right are occurring right now, and with little attention paid, at least in major U.S. newspapers. The most recent, and probably the most dangerous, case in point is the trial of columnist Mark Steyn on charges of "hate speech."

["As previously reported in Pajamas Media, Steyn was accused of “flagrant Islamaphobia” after his bestselling book America Alone was excerpted in Canada’s oldest newsweekly magazine, Maclean’s, in 2006." Steyn on trial]

The very concept of "hate speech" is hateful to anyone who values freedom. Negating the right to say something that some other person might find 'hateful' is to undercut the right at its root. There's never a need to protect speech that everyone finds pleasant.

I couldn't count the times when I've read something hateful printed in the New York Times, or any of a dozen other major publications. To advocate, for example, that every citizen be partly enslaved by limiting their productive output — in order to combat the alleged problem of global warming — is hateful to my ears.

To others, such as certain Muslims in Canada — egged on and backed by one of the jihadists most successful public relations firms, CAIR (among others) — what Mark Steyn said in his book is considered hateful. If it is, so be it. That is irrelevant. He has the right, no matter what the politically correct Chinese-style tribunals in Canada might say.

Among other 'offenses', Mr. Steyn is accused of daring to use:

"subtle, seemingly intellectual arguments” rather than “overtly racist” speech. But his accusers still regard it as “venom clothed in the language of reason.”

One could argue — successfully, I've no doubt — that Steyn's comments, while laced with "sarcasm" are eminently reasonable. But, that's beside the point. He has the right to be as unreasonable in his speech as he damn well pleases. Anyone who is offended doesn't have to read or listen. There are ample avenues for those who disagree to make their views known. Today, too many.

One argument in favor of restricting speech that underlies such nonsensical laws is the belief that humans are inevitably determined, or at least strongly influenced by what they read or hear. Apart from the obvious facts that humans possess free will and that there are wide disagreements throughout society, if that were true I would have an adoring audience of millions by now. Sadly, I have to honestly report, I do not.

On this subject, we'll give the penultimate word today to Thomas Jefferson who said, when defending a bookseller in 1814 who obtained a requested volume and suffered legal action in consequence,
"I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offence against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate."

(Page 102, The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia)

Canada should be mortified, too.


Goat said...

Steyn is the man and I hope he can run circles around them.
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Anonymous said...


What we are witnessing is an almost perfect example of the rule of non-objective law. Since something like "hate speech" could have as many intepretations as there are men, it gives NO guidance to a rational person as to what kind of **conduct** would fall under the law.

For example, in what contexts should the use of "sarcasm" or "venom cloathed in the language of reason" be outlawed? Are judges to determine what is not a civil argument and how much "venom" is enough?

Obviously, as you mention, Mr. Steyn has the freedom to offend--as was understood by Jefferson, Madison, et al. Besides the hideous injustice to Mr. Steyn, another pernicious consequence is that it has a chilling effect on future free speech, as people will not know whether their "sarcasm" or "venom" will put them in jail.

The quickest way to ruin a society is through the use of non-objective law, and antitrust and hate speech are two of the most prominent examples. It grants the government the arbitrary use of force as so well embodied in the prosecution of Mr. Steyn.