Free speech

Sir Winston Churchill in 1946 said, "We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English speaking world … through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law …"
Sadly, not all people in Canada believe in free speech or freedom of the press. We have allowed the concept that I describe as “the tyranny of the minority” to erode this historic principle.
We who write opinion columns know that some people will object to our opinions and sometimes respond with sizzling, blistering letters to the editor. Others will answer with logical arguments, but either way editors will print them, because it helps newspapers keep a balance when dealing with contentious issues. As a columnist, I appreciate any negative or positive letters. If you disagree with me, or any other columnist, national or local, you have as much right as we do to make your opinion known. 
Of course, if we step out of line and libel someone, we know the person or organization concerned could sue us. That forces us to carefully weigh our commentary, making sure everything we say has a solid basis in fact.
Editors watch us carefully, for the aggrieved party would include them in the lawsuit. Freedom of speech does not allow me or anyone else to ruthlessly attack others. In addition to that, if we say something to stir up hatred against an identifiable segment of society, and so contravene Canada’s hate laws, we’d  find ourselves in trouble. In this case convictions happen rarely, because the court must hear evidence that the person charged deliberately attempted to stir up hatred.   
Unfortunately, under Canada’s human rights legislation, a quasi judicial system exists: a system weighted in favour of the complainant, that does not follow accepted court procedure, including the rules of evidence, and that can level fines and force those declared guilty to make public apologies. Hence, anyone belonging to a minority can attempt to shut down free speech by using one of Canada’s Human Rights Commissions to investigate a supposed offence. At least two such cases are now before Human Rights Commissions. One involves Ezra Levant, who, in 2006 published a series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims world-wide had condemned the same cartoons as blasphemous when published in Denmark. Would a Canadian court hear a case of blasphemy? I doubt it. But a Human Rights Commission would.
On Oct. 23, 2006, MacLean’s magazine published a chapter of a book by Mark Steyn. In the item entitled, The Future Belongs to Islam Steyn quoted Norwegian Imam Mullah Krekar who negatively described the reproductive habits of his fellow Muslims. Steyn simply quoted the cleric to illustrate that Muslims have larger families than the western societies among whom they live. Then on Dec. 4, 2007, the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) announced that it had launched several human rights complaints against Maclean’s Magazine and Steyn. The CIC argues that the article subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred by representing them as part of a global conspiracy to take over Western societies. To be fair, the more moderate Muslim groups do not support the action of the CIC.  
 No one has the right to try to muzzle Levant, Steyn, and MacLean’s just because they did not agree with something they said. And it runs contrary to 793 years of our history and tradition to attempt to drag them before a kangaroo court in an obvious attempt to deny them free speech.

Ray Wiseman