Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Canadian human rights progress; European human rights decline

There are many reasons Americans have historically differentiated ourselves from Europeans (and it's unfortunate that today some believe we should emulate Europe). One such reason is our respect for natural human rights like freedom of speech. As a consequence America has rejected the idea of "hate speech". The same doesn't hold true for Canada, where hate speech laws have been used to prosecute individuals for committing acts that in the US would be protected as basic human rights: expressing a religious belief (pastor Stephen Boisson), criticizing a religious belief (author Mark Steyn), publishing those infamous Muhammad cartoons (human rights hero Ezra Levant), and allowing visitors to post hateful comments on your website (webmaster Marc Lemire), even if the comment is left "by a police officer posing as a racist".

It should come as a shock to Americans that these simple acts are viewed as crimes by our neighbors to the north (the Canadian government, not necessarily the Canadian people). In defending these prosecutions, Canadian Human Rights Commissioner Dean Steacy recently stated: "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value". This sentiment prompted a call for Congress to put Canada on the watch list of human rights abusers.

Today a major ruling in the Lemire case marks a victory for the cause of human rights in Canada. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which concerns hate speech, was found to be in violation of Canadians' Charter Right to freedom of expression. While this ruling only applies to the Lemire case and it will certainly be appealed, one can hope that this is the first step in toppling the regime of censorship in Canada.

Conversely, in Europe today: Dutch prosecutors are charging an Arab cultural group under hate speech laws for posting a cartoon on their own website. I won't post the cartoon here because I don't want the Dutch police coming after me (just kidding, I live in America - here it is), but here's the description:

The cartoon shows two apparently Jewish men standing near a pile of skeletons with a sign that says "Auswitch," presumably representing the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz.

One pokes a bone with a stick and says "I don't think they're Jews" and the other answers, "We have to get to the six million somehow."

The Arab European League posted their cartoon as an "act of civil disobedience" in response to the Netherlands' refusal to prosecute a Dutch lawmaker for including cartoons of Muhammad in a film. One might presume the AEL's objective is not to contest hate speech laws, but to have them enforced against those who insult Islam. However, according to the article, the AEL chairman has stated he believes anyone should be allowed to publish insulting material in the interest of public debate.

In 2005 free speech activists around the world rallied in support of the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of Muhammad and prompted worldwide protests by Muslims. Will free speech crusaders come to the defense of Muslims this time around?

No comments:

Post a Comment