Saturday, November 29, 2008

Stout defiance of human rights oppressors

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Over the past 15 years, there has been scant public concern over the disposition of Canada’s human rights commissions to silence white racists, anti-Semites and obscure Christians. Only now are most Canadians finally beginning to grasp the danger that the freedom-stifling powers of these commissions could be turned on them.

Much of the credit for this awakening goes to Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn. While most journalists have either condoned censorship or cowered in silence, Levant and Steyn have resolutely defied their human-rights attackers.

Steyn’s ordeal began last December, when the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal placed him under investigation for “The Future Belongs to Islam,” an excerpt from his best-selling book, America Alone, that was published in Maclean’s Magazine. The complainants in the case – all associates of the Canadian Islamic Congress -- insisted that Steyn and Maclean’s had no right in Canadian law to offend Muslims by publishing his honestly held convictions on the dangers posed by radical Islam.

The result was a national scandal. Many Canadians were shocked that such a flagrant attack on freedom of the press could happen in Canada.

In the face of this controversy, the Ontario Human Rights Commission was the first to back down. In a statement issued in April, the Commission denounced Steyn and Maclean’s for publishing an “explicit expression of Islamophobia,” but declined to proceed against them on the grounds that the Commission has no specific authority under the Ontario Human Rights Code to censor journalists and magazines.

Such a fine regard for the plain words and original understanding of the law is new to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. No such consideration inhibited the agency from prosecuting former London Mayor Dianne Haskett for refusing on principle to issue gay-pride proclamations.

In June, the Canadian Human Rights Commission followed the Ontario lead in the Steyn case, by announcing that it, too, had dropped its investigatiom. Four months later, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal also acquitted Steyn and Maclean’s on the ground that it had no authority in law to suppress political debate.

These rulings must have bemused Chris Kempling, a British Columbia man who was suspended from his post as a secondary school teacher in 2002 for expressing his opposition to same-sex marriage and other gay-rights projects in letters to the editor of his local newspaper. Kempling appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, only to have the country’s top court refuse even to hear the case.

Last year, the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal likewise censured Stephen Boissoin, a part-time Baptist youth pastor, for publishing a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate in which he denounced a new program of teaching on homosexuality in the Alberta public schools. For this offence to the sensitivities of homosexuals, the Tribunal ordered Boissoin to apologize, pay $7,000 in damages, and refrain from any more “disparaging” remarks about gays and homosexuals “in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches or on the Internet.”

In protest against this flagrant attack on freedom of expression, Levant courageously republished Boissoin’s controversial letter on his own website with the addendum: “OK, you ‘human rights’ bullies. Come get me.” After much dithering, the Canadian Human Rights Commission announced last week that it would not take up Levant’s challenge.

Meanwhile, delegates to the recent Conservative policy convention in Winnipeg overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling for elimination of the censorship powers in section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. And earlier this week, Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor, made the same suggestion in a review of human rights law prepared for the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

One key question remains: When oh when will our supposedly conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally summon up the political courage to authorize the introduction of a government bill to strip the Canadian Human Rights Commission of its power to suppress the fundamental rights of Canadians to freedom of expression?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Honouring our Freedom Fighters

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman
This year’s Remembrance Day marks the 90th anniversary of the conclusion of the First World War -- a fitting time to ponder anew the significance of the supreme sacrifices of all the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who fought to defend our freedoms in that horrific conflict.
No one exemplified the heroic qualities of those soldiers better than Lt. Colonel John McCrae, a surgeon attached to the Canadian Expeditionary Force. It was during a break in the second battle of Ypres on May 3, 1915, that he penned his immortal poem, In Flanders Field.
The Germans opened the battle with a surprise poison-gas attack. While thousands of Allied soldiers fled in terror, British and Canadian troops promptly filled in the gaps and held their ground. The cost was horrific. During the first 48 hours of this battle, the Canadians incurred 6,035 casualties, including more than 2,000 dead.
McCrae was appalled by the slaughter, but undaunted. As he pondered the poppies blowing between the crosses of hundreds of his hastily buried Canadian comrades, he imagined the dead heroes urging from the grave:
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
Indeed, hundreds of thousands of other Canadians did take up the quarrel. Close to 418,000 Canadians served overseas in the First World War. Altogether, an appalling 56,638 died in action and another 141,000 were wounded -- more than twice the number of Canadians killed and wounded in action during the Second World War.
No one doubts the valour and prowess of the Canadian military. They rank among the best in the world. Andrew Roberts, the distinguished British historian, testifies in A History of the English-speaking Peoples Since 1900 that during the Second World War, the Canadian Armed Forces “more than earned [Gen. Dwight D.] Eisenhower’s (necessarily off-the-record) remark that man-for-man the Canadians were the best soldiers in his army.”
Most Canadians agree that the dreadful costs of the Second World War were well worth the benefit of defeating the Axis Powers. But what about the First World War?
Since the 1920s, most intellectuals have thought the First World War was pointless. Pierre Berton was no exception. In Vimy, his gripping account of the heroism of the Canadian soldiers who won the epic battle of Vimy Ridge, he concluded: “Was it worth the loss of thousands of limbs and eyes and the deaths of 5,000 young Canadians at Vimy to provide a young and growing nation with a proud and enduring myth?... The answer, of course, is no.”
That judgment was grievously wrong. Roberts persuasively argues that “far from being a futile, unnecessary conflict, Britain went to war in 1914 for the noblest possible ideal and best possible reason: her honour and self-defence.”
And the same was true of Canada. In an address to Canadians in December, 1914, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden warned: “If the militarist and autocratic ideals of the Prussian oligarchy can assert themselves in worldwide dominance, the progress and development of democracy will either have been stayed forever or the work of centuries will have been undone and mankind must struggle anew for ideals of freedom and rights of self-government which have been established as the birthright of the British people.”
The Canadians who fought in the First World War did not just leave us with “a proud and enduring myth.” They made a vital contribution to the defence of freedom. And the same can be said for their worthy successors in the Canadian military who have distinguished themselves in every succeeding conflict, including the war in Afghanistan.
Let us not break faith with our heroic dead in Flanders fields. Let us forever revere them and all the other valiant members of the Canadian Armed Forces who have fought -- and continue to fight -- to defend our freedom.