Saturday, July 26, 2008

Student suppression of academic freedom

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Academic freedom used to be a hallmark of the Canadian university system. Apart from a few fascists, communists and other cranks on campus, everyone recognized that the free and vigorous expression of controversial ideas is essential to the life of the mind and the pursuit of truth.

Today, academic freedom is under attack as never before. On all too many campuses, freedom of expression is trumped by the contemporary canons of political correctness.

Consider, for example, the suppression of debate on abortion and the sanctity of human life. Earlier this year, the Canadian Federation of Students, an organization that purports to represent over half a million students at more than 80 universities and colleges across Canada, expressed support for students’ unions that “refuse to allow anti-choice organizations access to their resources and space.”

In conformity with this resolution, a growing number of students’ unions from Memorial University in Newfoundland to the University of British Columbia, Okanagan, have barred pro-life student organizations from using student facilities. In defending the adoption of this policy at York University, Gilary Massa, vice-president for equity of the York Federation of Students, explained that students will still be allowed to discuss abortion in student space, provided they do so “within a pro-choice realm.”

Massa sees no room for the discussion of abortion from a pro-life perspective. “These pro-life, these anti-choice groups, they’re sexist in nature,” she insists. “The way that they speak about women who decide to have abortions is demoralizing….Is this an issue of free speech? No, this is an issue of women’s rights.”
That’s typical of campus censors: They are very sure that they have an infallible grasp of the truth.

But that’s no excuse for stifling opposing opinions. In On Liberty, John Stuart Mill pointed out: “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still,” because it would rob both present and future generations “of the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., of the United States Supreme Court agreed. In his celebrated dissent in the Abrams case, he wrote: “Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition.”

Holmes added: “But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas -- that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.”

The thought police on campus, as in Canada’s so-called human rights tribunals, are bent on stifling the expression of all opinions that they deem liable to expose women, homosexuals, Palestinians or some other favoured group to hatred or contempt. Holmes decried such censorship. He warned: “I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”

Of course, it’s evident that pro-choice zealots have reason to fear that they cannot win in an open and uninhibited public debate on abortion. Now that ultrasound images of babies in the womb are readily available, the more people contemplate the sanctity of nascent human life, the more they are apt to grasp the self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; including the right to life.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Abolish human rights censorship powers

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

While the Canadian Human Rights Commission has bowed to widespread public opposition to proceeding with a complaint against Maclean’s magazine brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress, less powerful and prominent Canadians should beware: For them, the threat of censorship remains.

Even Maclean’s remains under investigation by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal in a parallel case initiated by Mohamed Elmasry, National President of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He has charged the magazine with expressing hatred and contempt for Muslims with the publication of an article by Mark Steyn on the escalating threat posed by radical Islam to democracy and freedom under law in Canada and other Western countries.

Elmasry has a low tolerance for criticism. In a newsletter published by the Canadian Islamic Congress, he has charged me and three other commentators with bearing primary responsibility for “today’s wave of anti-Islam vitriol” in Canada. And he has tried, but failed, to pressure President Paul Davenport of the University of Western Ontario into censuring Professor Salim Mansur for allegedly publishing columns "filled with hate-literature expressions" that "consistently denigrate Islam and Muslims.”

Ironically, it is not I, Mansur, Steyn or the editors of Maclean’s who are ill-serving Canadian Muslims, but Muslim leaders like Elmasry. By using Canada’s human rights tribunals to intimidate and silence their critics, these authoritarian Muslims are undermining the fundamental freedoms of all Canadians, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

Of course, more than a few non-Muslims also have scant regard for the historic rights of Canadians to freedom of expression. Recently, a gay rights activist threatened to denounce me to the Ontario Human Rights Commission for daring to suggest in a column published by The Free Press on Nov. 17, 2007, that same-sex couples do not have an equality right to adopt children. Specifically, I wrote: “Given that very few children raised by a homosexual couple have grown to adulthood, it is impossible to prove the competence of homosexuals as parents.”

In response to that statement, an array of intellectuals derided me as ignorant, malicious and ill-informed. But for all their bluster, no one could cite a single study to refute the experience of centuries which indicates that with rare exceptions, children thrive best under the care and guidance of their natural parents who are united in the traditional bonds of marriage between husband and wife.

However, truth is of no account in the censorship proceedings of a human rights tribunal. Typically, section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits the publication of even true statements that are likely to expose a protected person to hatred or contempt.

In general, the rules of evidence that have evolved over centuries to protect the innocent in a court of law do not apply in a human rights tribunal. Moreover, the federal and provincial human rights commissions pick up all the legal costs of complainants like Elmasry, but the accused can easily accumulate more than $100,000 in crippling legal bills.

Besides, the prospects for mounting a successful defence in a human rights tribunal are remote. With all the rules stacked against the defendant, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has never lost a case under section 13.

In the end, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, like its federal counterpart, will probably not dare to censure a powerful publication like Maclean’s for the publication of Steyn’s article. But let us suppose otherwise. If a human rights tribunal were to order Steyn to apologize for his article and to pay several thousand dollars in damages to Elmasry, would Steyn comply?

Not likely. And neither would any other self-respecting journalist obey such an oppressive edict. They would all prefer to end up in jail as a prisoner of conscience rather than obey a court order requiring them to apologize for upholding the truth as they are given to see the truth.

There is only one sure way to prevent such a travesty of justice in Canada. The censorship powers of our human rights tribunals must be abolished: The sooner, the better.