11/23/2011 10:17 EST | Updated 01/23/2012 05:12 EST

Crush Hate Propaganda, Not Free Speech


A virtue of minority governments in Canada is that the ruling party has got to pay attention to its parliamentary opposition, and must negotiate compromises.

A negative is that legislation can get mired in debate and nothing happens.

A virtue of majority governments is that worthwhile legislation that couldn't be passed in minority days can get whistled through with neither fuss nor fanfare.

A case in point is the ending of long-gun registration (rifles and shotguns) which has been a costly boondoggle with few positive effects, but which got tangled in politics during minority days, and made criminals out of farmers who ignored it.

More significant is the present government's apparent determination to scrap or revise Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which was intended to punish manifestations of "hate" in Canada, but has been misused to effectively curb free speech.

Alberta MP Brian Storseth has a private member's bill to scrap Section 13 and leave the Criminal Code as the means to counter hate propaganda.

Enacted in 1977 (by the Trudeau government, of course), the guts of Section 13 says: "It is a discriminatory practice (by an individual or a group)... to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that person or those persons are identifiable..."

At the time, Justice Minister Ron Basford said Section 13 applied mostly to Toronto where extreme groups used recorded telephone messages to attack others. Basford said the key was that the same messages were used repeatedly: "I underline the word 'repeatedly' that it has to be part of a pattern... (which) serves no social purpose."

Hate propaganda is one thing, crushing free speech is another.

Initially it was Jewish groups that supported Section 13, probably because they felt they were the favoured targets of hate. What wasn't anticipated was that the legislation would be used to limit free speech -- and in a draconian way that can't be justified in a court of law.

If (when) Section 13 is put to rest, much credit must go to Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn, who stood tall and fought back when human rights commissars went after them.

When Levant ran the magazine Western Standard (now deceased), he published the Danish cartoons that were a spoof on political aspects of Muhammad, but which every publication in North America shied from, for fear of Islamic violence that left people dead in other areas of the world.

By no stretch of any imagination was Levant indulging in "hate." It was news and comment which other publications avoided by pretending their cowardice was acting on "principle."

Steyn wrote a book that basically said their high birthrate indicated that Muslims would eventually be majorities in European countries. He thinks multiculturalism is a fraud -- combining the worst of Muslim culture with the worst of Western culture.

By fighting back, both these guys gutted the human rights zealots.

The Criminal Code is quite adequate to deal with "hate," and extends beyond free speech -- our most precious democratic "right."

Free speech is the right to be obnoxious; on occasion to be offensive; often to be wrong and to say rude or unkind things, but not necessarily untruthful things. Unlike human rights tribunals, those who go to court must prove they've been damaged by free speech.