Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Spewing Talking Points: Nigel Hannaford

The Herald's Nigel Hannaford has descended into the pit of spewing conservative talking points.

This week's topic from Mr. Hannaford is all about a vile little piece of work that writes for Maclean's under the name Mark Steyn. Steyn is yet another of the "chickenhawk" crowd - pro war, pro American aggression, and desperately phobic of the "brown-skinned menace" that he predicts will overrun Europe in a few generations. (I won't go into the details of Steyn's bird cage liner book - if you really want to read it, find it in the library or a used book store ... or at the bottom of a parrot cage)

Apparently, Mr. Steyn finds himself subject of a human rights complaint:

A chapter of his book, America Alone, ran in Maclean's Magazine last year. In it, Steyn predicted -- in his trademark abundant style -- the likely outcome of changing European demographics. Low birth rates among Europeans, and high birth rates among Muslims, could have only one result: eventual Islamization of the continent. He also cited the satisfaction that gave Islamic leaders such as Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi: "There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe -- without swords, without guns, without conquests. The fifty million Muslims of Europe will turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades."

Complainant Dr. Mohamed Elmasry says it was "flagrantly anti-Muslim . . ." As a reader of Maclean's, "I am entitled to its services without discrimination on the basis of religion."

This is the issue. The rise of Europe's Muslim population Steyn talks about is real -- in France it's reached 10 per cent. If religion matters to government and institutions, (and we know it does, and separate church and state accordingly,) it's reasonable to suppose this may affect life over there.

While Steyn may wish to assert that Europe will be "a Muslim continent" within a few decades, I suspect strongly that the issue is not the prediction itself, but rather the manner in which Steyn framed it that is at issue.

However, Mr. Steyn's specific woes are not my point with Mr. Hannaford's column. It is the blatant way that he repeats a series of talking points that I have heard repeatedly out of those who wish to impose their will upon others.

In Canada, there are two parallel streams of law dealing with speech. One is the criminal code, the other is the constellation of human rights commissions.

The key difference among many is that nailing somebody for discriminatory speech is much harder in court under the code, than at a commission by its rules. The prosecution has to prove an intent to incite hate; it is difficult to get a conviction. The commissions just take somebody being offended as prime facie evidence of guilt.

Well, not all somebodies. Years ago, B.C.'s HRC declared a hierarchy of protection: vulnerable minorities got it, members of oppressor groups didn't. Seriously: In the name of equality, these people declared Canadians unequal before them.

This is so fundamentally dishonest it's not even funny. Hannaford is doing little more than spouting a talking point here. Just as he did in his commentary on the Boissoin ruling, he's blithely ignoring the reality of the situation.

While the Human Rights Commission uses a much less rigid set of standards upon which to evaluate a case than would be used in evaluating criminal charges under S. 318 of the Criminal Code, Mr. Hannaford is utterly incorrect in claiming that they are "parallel laws". The Human Rights Commissions are essentially civil processes with very limited powers to impose punishments. Second, once a case leaves the commission system, there are options to appeal those cases to the courts.

Second, the criteria for a "hate crime" are quite different for the criteria that one would make a finding of "discrimination". Hannaford is conflating the two, and being quite dishonest in the process.

Multiculturalism secretary Jason Kenney thinks Elmasry is reaching: "To be attacking opinions expressed by a columnist in a major magazine is a pretty bold attack on the basic Canadian value of freedom of the press and freedom of expression . . . I think all Canadians would reject that kind of effort to undermine one of our basic freedoms."

Well, without seeing the substance of the complaint, I fail to see how either Kenney or Hannaford can really comment. I suspect that Elmasry's complaint won't go very far on its own merits.

I think Steyn's predictions are largely intellectual excretia, from the fevered imaginings of a man who tends to argue purely from assertion and claim that it is fact.

You've guessed it. Steyn is a paid-up member of the oppressors, and won't get a chance to marshal his facts in court, or offer a fair-comment defence.

Instead, it's off to the HRC, where all that matters is whether what he wrote is judged likely to bring an identifiable group into hatred or contempt.

Hannaford's characterization of Human Rights Commission processes is horribly dishonest here. If you have actually spent some time reviewing the published decisions (such as the Boissoin decision), it's quite clear that both parties in the discussion have considerable opportunity to put forward their side of the story, and that the commissioners do make an effort to weigh the positions in the context of both the laws that set out the powers of the Commission, Canada's legal framework overall and past cases.

These are not, as Hannaford or Craig Chandler might characterize them, "Kangaroo Courts". They are quasi judicial bodies that take their roles seriously.


Matthew 5: 6 said...

I have skimmed over the Maclean's article, and I wouldn't be quite so quick to dismiss the Human rights complaint.

Without having carefully studied the issues, it appears to me that the CHRC complaint could be on fairly solid grounds. In fact, I am considering filing a complaint myself, as it appears to be "likely to expose Muslims to hatred or contempt" as proscribed by section 13. (1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

It appears that the article may have the following hallmarks of hate.

1. Muslims are portrayed as a powerful menacethat is taking control of thw world.

2, It uses "true stories and reports" to make negative generalizations agains Muslims.

3. Muslims are blamed for current problems in society and the world
4. Muslims are portrayed as dangerous or violent by nature.

5. Muslims are portrayed as as devoid of any redemming qualities and are inately evil.

These hallmarks of hate are among those enunciated by the CHRT in Warman v. Kouba.

My Muslim friends are nothing like what Steyn depicts. McLeans should be ashamed for publishing such blatantly racist and anti-Islam trash...This type of crap shouldn't even be expected in the Western Standard..

If you replace each reference to Muslim with Jew, you get the type of propaganda that the Nazi's produced.
Like Premier Stelmach said: We don't tolorate intolorance.

Anonymous said...

You guys have gone off the deep end. It's not that the HRC have 'limited power' or that they're civil processes that's at issue. The problem is that Mark Steyn has to defend his opinions at all!

"I might not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I guess Canada wasn't ever a haven for freedom-lovers but it's wholly depressing to read your blog. What a sad state of affairs.


Grog said...


Sorry pal, but like any right, freedom of speech comes with a set of obligations and limits.

Freedom of speech, along with the other rights enshrined in the Charter is not an absolute right, but rather something that exists within a cat's cradle of other rights - including, and especially the rights of others.

Steyn doesn't have any monopoly on being "correct" in his supposed opinions, and claiming that something is "merely an opinion" has become a weak form of sophistry used by hard-line nutcases to justify writing some pretty awful things.

To put it in simple terms you might understand: "Your right to swing your fist ends precisely where my nose starts".

Frankly, I'm getting a little tired of the claim that it's "an assault on free speech" meme coming out of the right wing. What is it about "right wing" opinion writers that obliges these people to attack entire populations based on broad generalizations?

Anonymous said...

Now I’m the one who’s sorry, pal. Those ‘simple terms’ you use prove my point QED. By definition, speech isn’t the same as action.

If I want to say that I think the government is filled with little green men from Mars and that my telephone is lazy and that people who wear red shirts are evil and that white people are war-mongering sociopaths that are destroying the planet and that black people are war-mongering sociopaths that are destroying the planet and that Muslims are war-mongering sociopaths that are destroying the planet I can say all of those things. If I went out and physically attacked the government, people who wear red shirts, white people, black people, and Muslims then it’s something else entirely.

If you can’t understand that censorship of any kind of speech, even of new ideas you find frightening, is wrong then there’s not much hope for you anyway. Best of luck to our new thought policing overlords!!

Anonymous said...

By the way – if someone brought you up to the HRC because of your hate speech toward “Right Wingers,” do you think you’d change your tune about limits on free speech?

I’d really like an honest answer to that question, so please don’t dismiss out of hand.

How do you think you’d defend yourself?

Grog said...


(1) So you are claiming that speech is not an action? That it occurs utterly by unconscious volition? Would that the propaganda machines in various conflicts were so lacking in imagination.

Speech and ill-informed "opinion" are precisely the tools to foster discrimination and bigotry. A man whose name does not bear repeating observed that to make a lie the truth, tell a lie, tell a big lie and tell it often.

your hate speech toward “Right Wingers,”

Hate speech? Under what clause of the Human Rights legislation or Charter?

If you are claiming that what I've said is "anti-right wing hate speech", you'll have to demonstrate to how that is the case.

I think I can dredge up enough examples relating to an assortment of situations I know of to make my point.

... oh yes, you'd also have to address the fact I specifically mentioned "right wing opinion writers", who whether they are published in print media (like Steyn or Hannaford) or bloggers, are putting their opinions out in the public arena, and opening themselves to critique. {You will note that my post specifically critiques Hannaford's take on the situation - I hardly think that a single paragraph within the overall conversation constitutes significant cause for a claim of "hate speech".

Anonymous said...

Wow. Look. Since you can’t seem to get to the place I’m pushing you, I’ll make your argument for you.

First of all, speech is of course an action – in the same way that thinking is an action. Speech is specifically differentiated from ‘action’ or else we’d use the same word for both and the term would be ‘free action’ not ‘free speech.’ Even you have to concede that there is a fundamental difference between saying you hate someone and physically assaulting them.

Now, once we’ve established that basis, this argument typically makes a stop at “fire in a crowded theater” junction. You’re arguing that Mark Steyn’s opinion has the same effect as yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater – that what he says will get people hurt. I disagree. I think that Mark Steyn has a right to his political opinion, and since he does not openly incite violence against or threaten any particular person or group of people, his right to his opinion is protected by free speech.

I’ve just spelled out the disconnect between those 'right wingers' you dislike so much and yourself.

Because Steyn is abiding by the letter and spirit of the law, right wingers don’t see any justification for prosecution - that's probably why it's become a 'talking point.' Perverting the law to achieve a personal goal is something we tend to be against. Left wingers often do not, which is why we see more and more of them try to settle their disagreements this way; don’t like what someone's saying? Make it illegal (or prohibitively difficult) for them to say it!

Since you clearly used ‘right wingers’ and not ‘right wing opinion writers’ in several instances on your site and since “[you] think [you]can dredge up enough examples relating to an assortment of situations [you] know of to make [you] point” please present one (1) example relating to one (1) situation that proves your point. I find this exercise intriguing.

Grog said...


We are so far off the track of my original points about Hannaford's column that it's utterly meaningless.

You and I are clearly seeing this from very different perspectives.

Fundamentally, I have little problem with the existence of a body to arbitrate and evaluate situations like the criticisms of Steyn or the Boissoin letter. That you do not seem to see it that way is up to you.

As for a hypothetical discussion of "my writings as "hate speech"" and the defense thereof, I'm really not interested in getting into that space right now.

Anonymous said...

I’m not surprised.

Why is it that Leftists so often come back with, “I don’t want to talk about it” when confronted with salient points that contradict their viewpoint?

Just for the record, a discussion of what should be and shouldn’t be protected by free speech is the primary intent of your original post.

At least you’re honest about your desire for censorship. I’m glad I live in a country where we have a document that protects our thoughts, no matter who disagrees with them. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”

Grog said...

There is a huge distinction between censorship and a desire for an impartial body to moderate situations when disputes over who has impinged upon whose rights arise.

I have not, and do not advocate for censorship.

I do advocate for reasoned means to deal with such disputes.

As for the discussion itself, it was beginning to repeat itself - and I have little desire to chase in circles over points we are unlikely to come to any agreement on.

Anonymous said...

Whose right to what? On the one hand, we have an author of (controversial and/or offensive) opinion. He has an absolute right to freedom of speech subject only to such limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. On the other hand, we have an individual claiming to represent an identifiable group whose right to . . . ??? . . . has been infringed. What right is that? Where does it sit in the Charter again? I am becoming confused.

John Adams said...

Before the Canadian Human Rights Commission this year:

(Dean Steacy is a top investigator for the CHRC and Barbara Kulaszka, a lawyer representing a website owner)

MS. KULASZKA: "Mr. Steacy, you were talking before about context and how important it is when you do your investigation. What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate one of these complaints"?

MR. STEACY: "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value".

MS. KULASZKA: "Okay. That was a clear answer".

MR. STEACY: "It's not my job to give value to an American concept".

It's not that Steacy rejects "freedom of speech." He simply doesn't believe in the concept of a pluralistic democracy where people actually have a constitutional guarantee that the government won't be able to silence them just because someone like Steacy says so. And the reason he rejects the concept of democracy is because in his world, it is only his definitions that matter, not ours. These are, of course, blatant fascist, totalitarian concepts.

When the fascists come for you, Grog, you will be sure to write, won’t you?

Grog said...

Well, Mr. Adams, if you can actually provide linkage that substantiates what you are claiming was said, I'll look at it ... in its full context.

I've read enough other AHRC / CHRC decisions to suspect that what you are claiming is either a) fictional or b) an aberration, or c) there's context you haven't provided.

Grog said...


You wrote:

identifiable group whose right to . . . ??? . . . has been infringed. What right is that?

Have you actually read the Charter? Section 15 clearly provides for freedom from discrimination.

Further, as Matthew 5: 6 pointed out in the first comment in the thread, there may be reason to suspect that Steyn's article contravenes Section 13.(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Even at the base level of the Charter, rights are not "absolutes" but often exist in a state of tension with other expressed rights in the Charter.

As I said before - your right to swing your fist ends precisely where my nose begins. That applies to other rights as well.

Matthew 5: 6 said...

The Supreme Court has recognized that Human Rights Legislation is fundamental law.
It is designed to provide equal opportunity to all Canadians, regardless of their race, religion, age, sex, ethnic origin, and sexual orientation.

Since communicating hate messages clearly results in increased discrimination, the Canadian Human Rights Act deems hate messages repeatedly communicated over the Internet, or via recorded telephone message machines, to be a discriminatory act.

The human rights act is not designed to be punitive - no one can be sentenced to jail. - no criminal record etc. It is intended to be remedial - to end practices which result in discrimination. The Canadian Human Rights Act does not limit free speech. You can speak your views openly, but you cannot communicate Internet or recorded telephone messages what "are likely to expose" people to hatred or contempt.

You should be aware, that many human rights complaints are settled easily through mediation. If all parties are reasonable, there is no need for a formal hearing, and often, as with the complaint against Chandler, the CCC and Freedom Radio Network, there is no penalty. There is no need for a lawyer at the mediation, nor at a Tribunal hearing.

For those who believe in free speech at all cost, or that "sunshine is the best disinfectant", look in the history books at how the Nazis came to power with their hate propaganda. And, the groups targetted by Hitler as still being targetted today - including Jewish people, religious minorities, Roma, disabled people, and homosexuals.

Canada is a society which values diversity. We can prove to the world that we can have open and honest debate in a civilized manner without being hateful.

Anonymous sounds to me like another sock puppet for Chandler and Co.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matthew --

It is overly optimistic to claim that in a CHRC case "all parties are reasonable" and open to mediation. Mr. Richard Warman, an individual who is a complainant in no less than a dozen cases, routinely rejects mediation and insists on a tribunal hearing.

It is also simply not true that the CHRT proceedings are purely civil, with limited sanctions available to the Tribunal. The Tribunal has the power to make "cease and desist" orders, that specifically prohibit a party from making, or continuing to make, the communications that are the subject of the complaint. There is no time limit for the "cease and desist" orders -- they are lifetime orders. Such "cease and desist" orders are a fundamental deprivation of liberty, and the orders are deemed to have the force of a court order. Disobedience is punishable by imprisonment -- in one case, someone has actually been sent to prison for violating a "cease and desist" order. In other words, the CHRT, while nominally a civil administrative tribunal, is in its actual function a quasi-criminal tribunal when hearing a Section 13 case.

Very few people (including myself) think that Mr. Lemire and his views are anything other than repulsive. That is not the issue. The issue is one much larger than Mr. Lemire -- whether it is right for the government to use a human rights law to suppress opinions.

Mike Teper

Grog said...


While there is some truth in what you say, there are also serious misrepresentations.

First of all, failure to comply does not automatically result in jail time. At that juncture, the tribunal has the option to initiate criminal proceedings. This is little different than exists today under various non-criminal laws in Canada, such as the various highway traffic statutes which usually result in fines and demerits.

Second, as I have repeatedly pointed out on this blog, freedoms and liberties exist in a state of tension with each other. Someone's "right" to say or do something only extends so far before it infringes upon someone else's rights and freedoms. I cannot imagine how that would change simply on the basis of elapsed time without some kind of re-evaluation. In civil law (e.g. trademark cases), 'cease and desist' orders do not typically have an expiry date either, so I'm not convinced at all that your criticism represents anything meaningful.

Civil society exists within a framework of mutual respect for each other's liberties and views. The HRC construct exists primarily as a relatively limited arbiter (and the statistics around case resolution back up my assessment) of disputes where differences arise but the case itself should not take up limited and valuable time in the courts.