Maclean's article on Islam not hate speech: B.C. tribunal
By Lena Sin
Published: Saturday, October 11, 2008
The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a controversial complaint against Maclean's magazine, saying the magazine did not contravene the province's hate-speech law.
The complaint, launched by the Canadian Islamic Congress, alleged that an article about Islam written by journalist Mark Steyn and published in Maclean's two years ago spread hatred against Muslims.
But the tribunal ruled that the article, titled “Why the Future Belongs to Islam,” did not incite Islamophobia.
The tribunal said while the article contained inaccuracies and used common Muslim stereotypes, the complainant failed to describe how such stereotypes would increase the prevalence of hate or contempt for Muslims.
“Read in its context, the article is essentially an expression of opinion on political issues which, in light of recent historical events involving extremist Muslims and the problems facing the vast majority of the Muslim community that does not support extremism, are legitimate subjects for public discussion,” wrote the three-member tribunal panel in a decision released Friday.
Steyn's article, which was an excerpt from his book America Alone, argued that the growing Muslim population is set to take over the West based on demographics alone — thereby exposing social democracies to radical elements within the Muslim population.
The tribunal described the article as a “rallying cry to the West,” but said the act of causing “fear is not synonymous with hatred and contempt.”
The ruling marks the third time the complaint has failed before a human-rights commission in Canada. The Ontario commission rejected the complaint because it did not have jurisdiction on the matter while the Canadian Human Rights Commission rejected the complaint on the belief it was without merit.
Though he came out the victor, Steyn told the National Post the legal battle has left him disappointed in Canada's governance of human-rights issues.
“It has made me understand just how easily and incrementally free societies, often for the most fluffy reasons, slip into a kind of soft, beguiling totalitarianism,” he said.
Steyn also wrote on his blog that he should have been found guilty if one were to read B.C.'s broadly worded anti-hate-speech legislation accurately.
“Under the ludicrous British Columbia 'Human Rights' Code, we are guilty. Which is why the Canadian Islamic Congress should appeal,” Steyn wrote.
Khurrum Awan, an articling lawyer and CIC member who prepared the complaint, said he was happy the tribunal agreed with CIC's assertion that there was a “fear-mongering tone” to the article.
“We do hope news media in Canada will examine critically the way that they have been covering Muslims and Islam in their news and editorial coverage, and find an appropriate balance to be able to talk about important social issues while not publishing material of the nature in this case,” said Awan.
The high-profile case has come to symbolize the clash between two competing rights: freedom of expression — guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — and the freedom to be free from discrimination — guaranteed under federal and provincial anti-discrimination laws.
The B.C. tribunal itself came under fire for hearing the complaint in the first place, with journalists and some academics saying it would put a chill on future debate on sensitive topics.