News & Election Videos
Related Topics
free speech
Election 2008 Obama vs. McCain | Clinton vs. McCain | Latest 2008 Polls | Latest 2008 News


Then They Came for Mark Steyn...

By David Warren

In the olden days, in this country, people who were hurtin' sang a country song. I remember my little sister, when she was eight years of age, singing one in the kitchen, while affecting to wash some dishes. The lyrics were, as I recall: "My daddy hates me. / My mommy hates me. / My brubber hates me. / Everybody hates me and I'm / not very happy." It needed at least a banjo.

These days in Canada, if you're feeling down and blue, and you think somebody hates you, you bring your case to a Human Rights Tribunal. And the people you think hate you get that knock on the door, celebrated in the literature of the Soviet Gulag, and wherever else ideology triumphed over humanity in the 20th century's painful course. Your daddy, your mommy, your brubber, or more likely some newspaper pundit gets dragged before a committee of smug, leftwing, humourless, jargon-blathering adjudicators. After long delays that are costly only to the defendant and the taxpayer (and justice delayed is justice denied), you will have the satisfaction of making your enemy squirm, in a kangaroo court where he is stripped of the right to due process, in which there are no fixed rules of evidence, in which the ridiculously biased "judges" make up the law as they go along, and impose penalties restricted only by their grimly limited imaginations -- such as ruinous fines, and lifetime "cease and desist" orders, such that, if you ever open your mouth again on a given topic, you stand to go to prison.

Then finally, on "some autumn night of delations and noyades" (I am quoting Auden), the unrepentant practitioners of free speech will be sequestered by their litigator, and "those he hates shall hate themselves instead."

Alan Borovoy, one of the pioneers of these star chambers in Canada, now expresses himself aghast at their powers, and how they are being used to bring an end to Canada's heritage of free speech and free press. As he wrote in the Calgary Herald, recently: "During the years when my colleagues and I were labouring to create [these] commissions, we never imagined that they might ultimately be used against freedom of speech."

Against him, it must be said that he and his colleagues simply weren't listening when I and mine explained, decades ago, why this would be their inevitable effect. I think back, for instance, to the dismissals we received when I published Ian Hunter's important article, "What's Wrong with Human Rights," in the Idler magazine of April 1985. Everything that has happened since has confirmed our darkest predictions.

Including the darkest of those predictions: that intellectuals and the Canadian media simply would not care about defending even their own freedom. They would see it as a Left-Right issue, and being overwhelmingly people of the Left themselves, would actually approve the stifling of "racists" and "misogynists" and "born again crazies."

But to paraphrase the late Pastor Martin Niemöller: "First they came for the redneck trolls, and I did not speak out because I was not a redneck troll. Then they came for the male chauvinist pigs, and I did not speak out because I was not a male chauvinist pig. Then they came for Mark Steyn, and I did not speak out because I was not Mark Steyn. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me."

It should also be said that people of the Right, who should have known better, also didn't care. I have several quite plausibly rightwing friends who did not hesitate to use the new "human rights" machinery to lodge complaints about vicious attacks in the media on themselves, on Christians and conservatives generally, and especially on Catholics and the Catholic Church. Their complaints were invariably dismissed by the tribunals on sight, and yet by making them they contributed to legitimizing the process by which free speech could be "reviewed," as a matter of course, by their most deadly enemies.

For nota bene: this should not be a Left or Right issue. Freedom for one is freedom for all, and tyranny against one is tyranny against all. The remark attributed to Voltaire, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," perfectly expresses the finest, traditional liberal principle, upon which, ultimately, civil society relies.

I mentioned last week the case Mohamed Elmasry and the Canadian Islamic Congress have brought against Maclean's magazine for publishing Mark Steyn -- simultaneously before multiple human rights commissions, a tactic that is itself an egregious abuse of process. It is a case that should clang alarm bells right across Canada. Yet we've heard only a few modest tinkles.

© Ottawa Citizen

Facebook | Email | Print |

Sponsored Links
 David Warren
David Warren
Author Archive