A Victory For Free Speech

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With the release of the Moon report, Parliament has no excuse not to kill the censorship powers of the Canadian Human Rights Commission

Comment by Ezra Levant, November 25, 2008, in the National Post

The scandal-plagued Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has had a rough year — and it just got rougher.

On Monday, Richard Moon, a University of Windsor law professor, released his report on the CHRC’s troubling penchant for Internet censorship. Moon had been hand-picked by the CHRC to review its conduct, so the whole arrangement had at first looked pretty cozy. In the past, Moon had written favourably about government limits on free speech. That, plus a large payment for his brief report, made Moon’s review look like a PR stunt, especially since the CHRC simultaneously hired the pricey lobby firm Hill & Knowlton to provide “communications” advice. It all looked like a strategy to offset six months of bad press — not to mention embarrassing investigations into the CHRC’s conduct by the RCMP, the Privacy Commissioner and Parliament’s Justice Committee.

But to the surprise of critics like me, Moon recommended that section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act — the so-called “hate speech” provision, which empowers the CHRC to censor the Internet and other electronic media — be repealed. Instead of a whitewash, Moon’s report was the opposite — another nail in the coffin of the thought police.

The CHRC was surprised, too, and obviously not pleased. Although Moon’s report used the word “repeal” 11 times — it was his primary recommendation — that word appears nowhere in the CHRC’s press release announcing his findings.

In fact, the CHRC has already thrown Moon under the bus, minimizing his report as merely some “suggestions,” and announcing that they want a do-over. In the very same press release, they announced another round of consultations on the subject, at untold public expense — and this time they’ll be more careful about who’s allowed to participate.

It’s a lot like Quebec separatists and their referendums. They’re just going to keep on asking the question until they get the answer they want: the power to censor Canadians.

In the meantime, Canadians have run out of patience. Earlier this month, 2,000 delegates to the Conservative party’s national policy convention voted nearly unanimously to repeal section 13. That’s not too surprising. But what was surprising is that Rob Nicholson, the Justice Minister, publicly cast his vote to repeal section 13 as well — an incredible statement from the man in charge of Canada’s laws. And just last week, Keith Martin, the Liberal MP from Vancouver Island, introduced two private member’s motions attacking the CHRC — one of them to repeal section 13, and the other to investigate the CHRC’s conduct (such as their staff’s routine practice of joining neo-Nazi organizations on an “undercover” basis, and publishing hate propaganda themselves in an attempt to entrap real hate-mongers). Rick Dykstra, a Conservative MP from St. Catharines, Ont., is expected to reintroduce a similar resolution in the Justice Committee, too.

Moon’s report is not without its flaws. But it does restate some basic truths to which the CHRC, especially its chief commissioner, Jennifer Lynch, have become blind.

Moon points out that because of its abusive process, the CHRC has a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression, “even if the complaint is dismissed by the CHRC at the end of the investigation process.”

He also condemns the CHRC’s scheme to pressure Internet service providers to do the CHRC’s censorship dirty work for them.

Ordinary Canadians accept some very limited infringements on speech, but only in extreme cases — such as when the speech is a real incitement to violence. That’s already covered by the criminal code, however. We don’t need redundant prohibitions in our human-rights law.

The fact that the CHRC continues to cling to its censorship powers — even after Moon’s dramatic rebuke — shows how out of step with Canadian values the CHRC has become. When it was created in 1977, the CHRC was designed to be a shield, protecting the civil rights of Canadians. A generation later, they’ve mutated into a sword, violating our freedoms. And their Kafkaesque conduct violates our norms of natural justice, too.

It’s no longer even a matter of serious debate in Canada. The entire political spectrum has rebelled against section 13, with critics as diverse as Egale, the gay rights lobby, PEN Canada and the Toronto Star joining the National Post, the Canadian Association of Journalists, Noam Chomsky and even TV’s Rick Mercer calling for section 13 to be repealed. The only people who don’t seem to get it are those with a personal stake in censorship — the bureaucrats and lawyers who make a living off the law; as well as the community groups that support them, such as the Canadian Jewish Congress and Canadian Islamic Congress.

It’s Parliament’s turn to act. A Liberal named Keith Martin and a CHRC consultant named Richard Moon both support repeal of section 13 — the Conservatives should make it unanimous and non-partisan, and just do it.

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