Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mark Steyn censored in Canada?

Conservative Canadian pundit Mark Steyn has made a name for himself in recent years as a Cassandra about the supposed threat posed by Islam to the liberal democracies of the West. Making the case most clearly in his witty, if doom-mongering, book America Alone, Steyn argues that Europeans are slipping into irrelevance courtesy of their doddering welfare states and their anemic birthrates -- that Belgium, France and Holland are poised to join the Muslim world courtesy of fast-breeding immigrants who retain a closer kinship to the cultures of the countries they left than to the values of their new homes. In response, Steyn has drawn charges of sloppy argument and even overt racism.

But, until now, the broadsides fired at the controversial writer have been rhetorical in nature -- they haven't actually carried legal consequences. That's changed now that Canadian authorities are investigating Steyn for supposed "hate speech" -- a forbidden form of expression in the frozen North -- over an excerpt from his book published in Macleans magazine.

Yep, that's right -- a writer may be penalized by the government for penning officially disfavored ideas. In Canada.

Many Americans have the idea that Canada is a lot like the U.S., but a tad more nanny-statish. In a lot of ways that's true, but it understates some important differences. In particular, Canadians are much more vulnerable than Americans to the whims of government officials when it comes to protections for individual rights. As eroded as the U.S. Bill of Rights may be, it starts from the premise that individual rights precede government, and that government may not legitimately violate or change those rights. Practical application is another matter, but the original premise still has some force.

By contrast, Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms is written as a model of slippery legalese, and seems rooted in the idea that the rights and freedoms it protects are gifts from the government. Notoriously, it includes a clause that allows federal or provincial legislators to ignore the charter by simply stating their intent to do so.

33. (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.

In usual practice, this difference may mean little. Canadians sometimes exercise a little more liberty than Americans on issues like marijuana use, for instance. But the idea that liberty is something that's parceled out by politicians tends to result in predictable results when those politicians come under pressure by people upset by somebody else's exercise of their rights. Specifically, that means that voicing politically incorrect opinions can trigger complaints that send bureaucrats chasing after politically incorrect opinions with hefty legal flyswatters.

Not too long ago, the Canadian Human Rights Commission actually issued a cease-and-desist order against a Canadian woman for posting homophobic Bible verses on American Websites. So Mark Steyn faces real potential consequences over the opinions he voiced in a book that hit the New York Times bestseller list.

Steyn may be right about the demise of liberal democracies in the West. But the killing may be suicide rather than murder.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 18, 2009 11:39 PM  

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