“Hate'': Will B.C. tribunal know it when it sees it?
Saturday, 10 May 2008
CANADA, which has made “hate speech” against the law, now struggles to balance political correctness with freedom.
We do not envy the Canadians. They have entrusted to their government a power Americans never would, and they follow it into foolishness.
In the week of June 2, a body of bureaucrats called the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal will call on the carpet author Mark Steyn. A bellicose champion of the West, Steyn predicts in his new book, “America Alone,” that Muslims will swarm over Europe, ban alcohol and put women in veils. Maclean's magazine printed an excerpt that outraged Islamic Canadians, who complained to human-rights tribunals in Ottawa and the provinces.
Steyn's book may well be hateful in some way. The Seattle Times thought the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad were hateful, and did not reprint them. That was one newspaper's decision. In Canada, the law makes such questions the government's decision.
British Columbia now bans all words and images “likely to expose a person … to hatred or contempt” because of race, religion, age, disability, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.” This sounds like a libel law for groups, except that libel is a misstatement of fact that damages an individual reputation. In the United States, for a public figure to be libeled, the false statement has to be made maliciously or recklessly.
The Canadian idea of hate speech is less specific and more dangerous. Hate is like obscenity, about which Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said, “I know it when I see it.” The difference is that a ban on obscenity does not touch political discourse, and a ban on hate does.
It also sets up government for open ridicule. Steyn is gleefully marketing his book as a “Canadian hate crime” and daring the tribunal to pronounce him bad.
Racial harmony in Canada would have been safer had the question never become official.