Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Human Rights Again

I'm a big fan of the free speech. As Jennifer Lynch, Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission here in Canada would say, I'm a "free-speecher". I'm also, as she would say, a "human rightser". In theory, there is no conflct there.

Until you get to hate speech.

I used to be a fan of nailing bigots to the wall. I wanted the government to arrest and detain people who incite hatred or violence. I wanted to protect the vulnerable in socitety from those who would harm them verbally, or coax others into harming them.

But recently, I've been seeing what can only be called abuse of provisions meant to protect the vulnerable, used by the malicious to attack the blunt, the tactless, the ones with dangerous and dangerously popular opinions. There are people on both sides of the argument that I can get behind. Richard Warman is one who has gone after neo-nazis here in town, and nobody likes neo-nazis.

But even fucking neo-nazis have rights, and I'm afraid the HRC might be going to far in muzzling hate speech. Further, actual dangerous speech is already covered by the criminal code: uttering threats, or inciting others to violence, or calling for genocide, or anything that actually exposes other people to violence is already illeagal. And crimes motivated by bigotry are already more severe than others. Beat up somebody, and your an assailant. Beat somebody up because he's a Sikh, and you're a racist and an assailant, and punished accordingly. I don't know for sure that sexual identity is protected yet against hate crimes in Canada, but it needs to be.

But at the same time, while I advocate the reconsideration of the HRC, this is hyperbole that does no one any good:

Few institutions conjure up George Orwell’s dystopia of 1984 as readily as the Canadian Human Rights Commission. A premature baby, born seven years ahead of Orwell’s schedule, the CHRC has been as smugly doubleplusgood as the satirist’s Ministry of Love, though not remotely as powerful or quite as evil.

Give it time, I say.

Worried that time isn’t on its side, the CHRC launched an independent review of some of its policies this week, coupled with an in-house review of some of its practices. “Independent of what?” you may ask. Rest assured, not of the Zeitgeist that created the 1977 Human Rights Act and its notorious Section 13-1. The likelihood of an organization like the CHRC instituting a probe for any purpose other than self-justification is remote.

To borrow Orwell’s language, anyone retained by Canada’s thinkpol should be a goodthinker, fluent in newspeak. He ought to bring to his task a bellyfeel about crimethinkers and the correct way of dealing with them. He should have a
capacity for doublethink and recognize the importance of keeping anything
malreported out of the public discourse, especially away from such prolefeed as the Internet.

This is probably spurred on by the fact that the Post has met with the HRC before. And I'm not at all sure that I disagree with the general thrust of the piece. But George Jonas is not helping the situation by comparing the HRC to the Thought Police.

I've come around recently to thinking that protecting all speech is too important to allow anyone to censor it. There are a lot of ideas that are unpopular, dangerous, and even just plain wrong, but we can't allow any one group to silence another, especially before they've had a chance to have their say.

It's sticky, and I've reversed my position on this, but I'd rather some people have too many rights, than having some people without them.

1 comment:

M@ said...

Few institutions conjure up George Orwell’s dystopia of 1984 as readily as the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Oh, I think it's a little more than a few. Secret torture prisons, torture-based interrogations, unending war with Eurasia, spying on personal communications without limit... if the HRC's hearings are the best this guy can think of as a parallel to 1984, then either he's never read the book or he's utterly intellectually dishonest.

Or he's an illiterate retard. I'll go with B or C, I think.