By Hilary White

OTTAWA, August 27, 2008 ( – Canada is a “problematic” destination for a conference on political thought because of the predilection of its Human Rights Commissions (HRC) for squashing freedom of expression says a number of American intellectuals.

The group of U.S. academics is circulating a petition asking the American Political Science Association (APSA) not to hold its annual convention in Toronto next year for fear that some of its members will be subject to human rights prosecutions if they speak or write about controversial subjects.

“Our belief is that most Americans – even APSA members – have no idea how precarious the rights of freedom of speech and conscience are in Canada,” said Bradley Watson, professor of American and Western political thought at Pennsylvania’s St. Vincent College.

Watson told the National Post that Canada’s lack of protection for free speech, as demonstrated by the recent prosecutions of conservative journalists by the HRCs, is an impediment for an organization that supports no particular political agenda, either left or right. The American Political Science Association is the largest association for political thinkers in the world and is constitutionally bound to complete neutrality and total academic freedom to investigate, publish and speak on all political subjects.

“Our belief is that the APSA should choose its sites carefully, with particular regard for questions of freedom of speech and conscience. We therefore believe Canada to be a problematic destination,” Watson said.

The petition says that the Canadian government, under the auspices of the HRCs, “have recently sought to suppress speech and impose legal penalties on speakers” who have expressed opinions on “the morality of homosexual conduct and the question of legal recognition of same-sex unions”, and “the threat to freedom posed by violent extremists acting in the name of Islam.” This is, the petitioners assert, “speech that, according to all accounts, would be protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”

The group fears that with Human Rights Commission cases against Maclean’s Magazine, Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant, Catholic Insight magazine, Pastor Stephen Boissoin and others, government suppression of academic freedom is a logical next step.

The petition says, “[T]he writ of Canada’s HRCs runs without evident limit to encompass any speech, academic or otherwise, to which potential complainants take ‘offense’.”

The “arbitrariness and procedurally unconstrained practices of the HRCs create an air of uncertainty regarding whose speech, on what subjects, before what audiences, will be targeted next.”

David Warren, a political columnist and foreign affairs correspondent writing for the Ottawa Citizen, called the Human Rights Commissions a relentless “Kafkaesque bureaucracy.”

“The septic idea of policing public opinion has spread rapidly through many Canadian institutions, under tireless pressure from activists of various kinds – feminist, homosexual, Islamist, and miscellaneous leftist – who hold the notion of free speech in contempt.”

When asked recently in an interview “what value” he gives to freedom of speech when investigating complaints, Dean Steacy, a leading official of the HRC, replied, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.”

The success of the HRCs to suppress freedom of expression, Warren wrote, “depends on the obsequious response of our political class – Conservatives and Liberals alike – who tend to wet themselves at the first shrieking note from a radical lunatic.”

The fight against the abuses of the Human Rights Commissions is continuing. Although some of the complaints have been dropped against Ezra Levant, the former editor of the Western Standard magazine, he still faces multiple complaints in other provinces and civil suits over various items that appeared in his magazine and on his blog.

After 18 months of legal proceedings, at a cost of $20,000, the complaint was also dropped against Catholic Insight magazine. Stephen Boissoin, however, was ordered by the HRC to publicly renounce his Christian beliefs by issuing an apology for having spoken out against homosexualist activism, and pay a fine of Cn. $7000. He was ordered never to express his views against homosexuality again in any public forum.

Read related coverage:

Alberta Pastor Fined $7000 and Ordered to Publicly Apologize and Remain Silent on Homosexuality

Human Rights Commission Drops Complaint Against Catholic Magazine

More of’s extensive coverage of the Human Rights Commissions here:


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