Saturday, July 12, 2008

Ezra Goes to Washington

Ezra told an audience of foreign affairs experts and human rights watchers in Washington: "Add Canada to your watch list of countries that abuse human rights like freedom of speech and freedom of religion".

Canadian human rights commissions, however, are not respectful of the sensitivities of all religions. Less politically correct faiths are regularly prosecuted by them. This May, an Alberta pastor named Stephen Boissoin was given a lifetime gag order, never to say anything critical of homosexuality – not in a church sermon, not even in private e-mails. As well, in what can only be called a Maoist verdict, he has been ordered to renounce his religious beliefs, and to publish a self-denunciation in the local newspaper.

This is Canada we’re talking about. Not Iran, not China, not Cuba.

How did this happen? How did Canadians lose their rights, on the one hand, to criticize radical Islam, and on the other hand, lose their rights to practice Christianity?

The answer is a combination of good intentions and bad intentions.

The good intentions came from do-gooders who, thirty or forty years ago, set up these human rights commissions with the noble ideal of promoting harmony amongst different religions and races. But those good intentions came with the power of the law to censor people who said rude, even racist things. So it became illegal in Canada to say anything that was regarded as hateful, even if it was non-violent.

We invented “thought crimes”.

The actual wording of the laws is to ban anything that is quote, “likely to expose a person to hatred or contempt”. Note the word “likely” – you don’t actually have to do anything wrong. You can be convicted for a “pre-crime”, something that hasn’t happened yet. And look at what’s illegal: causing emotions. Not real harm or damages. Just exposing someone to feelings. By the way, the truth of what you say is not a defence. And at the Maclean’s magazine trial last month, half a day was spent determining whether their jokes were funny. They even had a joke expert.

Don’t laugh – literally. Just three weeks ago, a comedian was ordered to stand trial for telling off-colour jokes in a night club. Warning to Chris Rock: don’t bother coming to Canada.

According to Alan Borovoy, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, even a documentary about the Holocaust is against the law, since it could, possibly, cause people to have feelings of contempt for Germans.

At first, these thought crimes were targeted at people so odious, no-one spoke out in their defence. Neo-Nazis mainly – including an 80-year-old man named John Taylor who served 9 months in jail for having an anti-Semitic phone message.

We don’t like anti-Semitism or other bigotry; I certainly don’t. But instead of the traditional answer to offensive speech – more speech, better speech, truer speech – Canada took the easy way, and simply outlawed hurt feelings. Instead of doing the hard work of building a truly tolerant society, we thought we could wave a magic wand, and legislate bad feelings out of existence.


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