Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Steyn in the dock

In the most dramatic trial since Charles I had the worst seat in the house in Westminster Hall back in 1649, Mark Steyn and Maclean's are being (sort-of) tried before a sort-of court, BC's Human Rights Commission.
This is wrong.
This is not the place to settle reader complaints about the press. If Steyn's book broke hate crimes laws, he should be charged. If he libelled anyone, let them sue. This court is no more a court than the one that snuffed King Charles. It's a political operation conducted by non-judges.
And, like Charles, I'd argue it has no jurisdiction. I suppose that argument will do me as much good as it did Chuck.
The mainstream media isn't exactly live-blogging the hearing. You can read Ezra Levant's live blog here. Here's a mouldy CBC story. If you don't know what this is about, read the story first. If you do know, skip to the comments. They're pretty good.


Andrew Coyne will be carrying the live-blogging ball. He's done a good job over the past couple of days but I wish I could link to a live-blogger who is not employed by a party in the case or facing their own Human Rights Commission hearing.


I don't know why I'm surprised that the Canadian media doesn't give a shit about this story. People outside journalism would expect people in the "profession" to circle the wagons and protect the press from being subjected to yet another censorship system. After all, if lawyers in Pakistan were prepared to be beaten and jailed for their defence of English Common Law rights, wouldn't Canadian journalists at least lift a finger to publicize an assault on their rights? No one's expecting them to get whalloped or even to pass the hat.
Then I give my head a shake. I remember what I've learned about Canadian journalists from my own research for my PhD thesis on wartime press censorship. The press in Canada begged to be censored. They pleaded with the government to send censors into the newsroom so they wouldn't have to think. They just wanted to publish and make money. All they wanted was protection -- that the other guy would not get any scoops. They didn't care about informing the public.
As for Canadian war correspondents, here's what Charles Lynch had to say about them:
“It’s humiliating to look back at we wrote during the war,” Lynch told author Philip Knightley in the 1970s. “It was crap – and I don’t exclude the Ernie Pyles or the Alan Mooreheads. We were a propaganda arm of our governments. At the start the censors enforced that, but by the end we were our own censors. We were cheerleaders. I suppose there wasn’t an alternative at that time. It was total war. But for God’s sake, let’s not glorify our role. It wasn’t good journalism. It wasn’t journalism at all.”
Most of them aren't any better now.
I went through every scrap of correspondence of the World War II domestic press censors. You know who the biggest rats were, the people who complained that some newspaper or other had published something detrimental to the war effort, of value to the enemy, or prejudicial to recruiting?
Wanna guess?
First hint: wasn't the army, navy or air force.
And the government had no problem finding willing, even eager, journalists to work as press censors.
In fact, the chief English censor, Wilf Eggleston, was disgusted by the Canadian media's roll-over for the censors and their lack of enthusiasm for anything resembling conscientious domestic front reporting during the war. He had been president of the Press Gallery before the war but in 1945 he quit journalism and founded the Carleton University J-school.
I don't think that's solved the problem.
So the big media in Canada are prepared to have a hideous precdent take shape. Anyone who feels the slightest bit aggrieved or is just plain spiteful will be able to write a short complaint to any provincial or federal Human Rights Commission, whether they live in the jurisdiction or not, and have their complaint adjudicated by people who have no legal training. The press will face the costs of a libel suit any time they write anything that upsets anyone.
The "offensive" writings won't have to be offensive enough to constitute hate crime under the Criminal Code, nor will they have to identify and defame a person so specifically that they constitute libel. (You can't libel an unincorporated group of people, even if you call them murderers and war criminals, as Bomber Command veterans found out).
Thank God Maclean's is fighting this. They need to take this all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, and, judging by the presence of Julian Porter at the Vancouver hearing, that's exactly what they seem intent on doing.
This issue is not about Mark Steyn or even the reptilian Ezra Levant(who faces whis own Human Rights Commission hearing). It's about what you and I will be able to read and write. It's as basic as that.

Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Provice does a great job of explaining this dangerous farce here.


bigcitylib said...

Quit blovating.

Betcha a $5 Macleans wins, and Steyn has to dismantle his cross and go home. You write:

"This is not the place to settle reader complaints about the press. If Steyn's book broke hate crimes laws, he should be charged. If he libelled anyone, let them sue..."

I don't believe Macleans accepts the jurisdiction of Canadian press councils, and your second suggestion is out of reach of most people, which means newspapers can safely libel anyone who doesn't possess sufficient dough. Tough shit for them, right?

(Think of the Chronicle Herald calling that guy a terrorist that the gov. had just released for lack of evidence. You arguing that he should either sue or suck it up. Best argument for an alternative mechanism I've heard in a wwhile, though, frankly).

Ottawa Watch said...

I'm not advocating people be libeled. Hell, if I was a lawyer, I'd take this case. Are there no lawyers in Nova Scotia who work on contingency (getting paid a percentage if/after they win) or a human rights lawyer who knows how to write a statement of claim? Is there no press council in Nova Scotia?
That's the real injustice. This guy has a libel case, not a human rights case. He has actually been done harm by journalists and he has less access to "justice" than the plaintiff in the Maclean's case. Something is definitely wrong.