By Hilary White
VANCOUVER, June 3, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has had its first day of hearings in the case being brought against syndicated columnist and author Mark Steyn, and Maclean’s magazine that published an excerpt from his book, “America Alone”.
The lawyer for the complainants, Faisal Joseph, opened his statements yesterday saying that the article, “The future belongs to Islam,” published by Maclean’s in October 2006, depicted Muslims as “a violent people” who hold traditional Canadian values “in contempt”. Their religion he said, was portrayed as “inhuman” and “violent”.
“We know under the Supreme Court of Canada [and] under tribunals of this country that there are reasonable limits [to the freedom of expression],” Faisal Joseph, Habib’s lawyer, said.
The complainants, Mohamed Elmasry, an imam and president of the Canadian Islamic Congress and Naiyer Habib, after failing to bring their complaints to the legitimate courts, complained to the Canadian, Ontario and B.C. human rights authorities after the Toronto-based magazine published the article.
Elmasry has a reputation in Canada as an Islamic extremist after appearing on the Michael Coren Show in Toronto in 2004 and stating that anyone in Israel over the age of 18 was a justifiable target of Palestinian attacks. He later apologized for his remarks calling them his “biggest mistake” in 30 years of public life.
The opposition to the entire proceeding, however, is growing and the tribunal today and yesterday has attracted enormous media attention in Canada and the US for its attack on freedom of speech and a free press.
A source at the hearing said that despite the fact the normal room capacity is only 40 people, over 50 have squeezed in and many were left in the hallway unable to attend. A blogger at the hearing said that security guards have told hopeful reporters that they can take seats vacated by those going out to use the bathroom.
Journalists from the CBC, National Post, 24 Hours, CKNW radio, and others including Terry O’Neill, Ezra Levant and Andrew Coyne are present and running “liveblogging” [up to the minute commentary] on their own websites and that of Maclean’s magazine.
A small cadre of supporters of Mark Steyn were also outside the court house brandishing blank signs that they said were symbolic of the attempt to force Steyn and Maclean’s to “shut up”. One protester said, referring to the hate crimes provisions in the Human Rights Acts, “We politicize our judiciary with this kind of law, because everything a writer writes is potentially going to hold somebody up to contempt”. “It’s a dangerous law, because if we silence writers, all kinds of implications flow from that.”
Intervenors supporting Maclean’s and Steyn include those for the Canadian Association of Journalists and the BC Civil Liberties Association who both clearly identify the issue as one of freedom of expression. “We’re of the view in the first place that the human rights tribunal doesn’t have any business deciding what appropriate expression in Canada might be,” said Jason Gratl, a lawyer for the Canadian Association of Journalists and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
Ezra Levant, a lawyer and former publisher of the Western Standard Magazine, who faces a lawsuit and a separate Human Rights Commission complaint over similar accusations, has led the charge against what he has identified as the abuses of law that are a routine part of the HRCs’ procedures.
He and National Post columnist Andrew Coyne are liveblogging at the proceedings in Vancouver and have cited the Tribunal’s acceptance of “evidence” that would be thrown out of a legitimate court. These include references to blog posts by people not associated with the case, anonymous comments made on blogs and websites, uncorroborated testimony of private conversations, polls and newspaper articles referring to events in other countries with no connection to the complaint.
Levant writes, “In a real court, Joseph and his bigoted client would be laughed out of court, and have to pay Maclean’s costs. But this isn’t a real court. This is a kangaroo court, with three leftist activists as panellists.”
The chairman of the Tribunal panel hearing the Steyn/Maclean’s case is Heather MacNaughton, the same commissioner who levied a $7500 fine, the largest in the history of the Human Rights Tribunal. That fine was against Vancouver Rape Relief when that organization refused to allow a male-to-female “transsexual” to train as a rape and abuse hotline counselor.
MacNaughton is notorious as the adjudicator of decisions against Christian plaintiffs, including a branch of the Knights of Columbus who “hurt the feelings” of two lesbians when they refused to rent their facilities for the women’s’ “wedding”. She also fined Christian printer Scott Brockie and denied an appeal by Christian teacher Chris Kempling for their religious opposition to homosexuality.
Levant does not mince words in his assessment of MacNaughton, “MacNaughton is a not a judge—far from it. Like the other two panelists, she is a radical activist, a social engineer of the first order, which is precisely why she was appointed to the Tribunal.”
Late last week, the Conservative government introduced a motion to Parliament’s Justice Committee proposing to investigate the practises of the Canadian Human Rights Commission which critics have said defy the normal procedural rules of evidence and legal investigation. The motion specifically refers to public “concerns” about the CHRC’s “investigative techniques” and their “interpretation and application” of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act on “hate” crimes.
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