Last week, I wrote about the neo-nationalist and quasi-fascist parties elected to the European Parliament. When a political movement calls itself, as in Bulgaria, the Attack Party, one naturally expects to hear the martial drum of approaching jackboots. But, in western Europe and in North America, the reality is that fascism pitter-patters in on cashmere slippers, smooth, unthreatening and beguiling as it gently ushers us ever deeper into Soft Despotism (to use the title of Paul Rahe’s new tome) or (to take Kathy Shaidle’s and Pete Vere’s book) The Tyranny Of Nice.
And so it is that the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission, after lying low during the worst year-and-a-half in its existence, now feels it safe to poke its head above the parapet. A year ago, at the height of publicity over its investigation of Maclean’s for publishing an excerpt of my book, the CHRC sought to get itself off the hook in the traditional manner: commission a report. They signed up professor Richard Moon, who’s no pal of mine and is distressingly partial to state censorship. Yet, amazingly, his findings, published at the end of last year, recommended the abolition of Section 13—not, alas, on the grounds that this abominable “law” licensing ideological apparatchiks to police the opinions of the citizenry is at odds with eight centuries of Canada’s legal inheritance, but on the narrower utilitarian basis that in the age of the Internet Section 13 is unenforceable.
Still, this came as a bit of a shock to the CHRC thought police, who regard it as entirely natural for the state to regulate the bounds of public discourse. They decided that the Moon report was now merely the “first phase” of their analysis, and that a second would shortly follow. So this month the CHRC’s chief commissar, Jennifer Lynch, Q.C. (which I believe stands for “Queen of Censorship”), presented a special report to Parliament called “Freedom of Expression and Freedom from Hate in the Internet Age.”
By the way, lest you think I’m exaggerating about incipient fascism, consider that title: it appears to be “balancing” two “human rights,” but, in fact, it’s doing no such thing. “Freedom of” denotes a genuine human right: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly. “Freedom from” (with the exception of “freedom from government control”) denotes not a human right but a government right—the right to erect a massive enforcement regime in pursuit of some statist goal. “Freedom from want” or “freedom from inequality” sound, to Canadian ears, very benign, but they presuppose, at minimum, a giant government regulatory regime and a restraint on real, actual humans’ rights. “Freedom from hate” is an especially repugnant concept to a free society, since “hate” is a human emotion that beats, to one degree or another, in every human breast. To be human is to hate and be hated: see the scene in Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Stepford Wives or whatnot in which it’s patiently explained to the hero how much more smoothly everything operates once you’ve had all those beastly, turbulent, destabilizing things called “emotions” ironed out and you’re just wandering around with a glassy-eyed expression and a flat monotone voice, like Jennifer Lynch reading out the fraternal greetings from the Sudanese Human Rights Commissioner at the CHRC Christmas office party. A society “free” from “hate” is, by definition, totalitarian, because such a “human” right is fundamentally inhuman: it can only be granted and policed by the state. And the fact that Commissar Lynch attempts to make it one end of her balancing act to be weighed against “freedom of expression” is very revealing: for the chief commissar and her colleagues, “rights” are not inalienable, but something which is essentially in the gift of the state, and therefore which it is necessary for the state to constrain and “balance” until it achieves the appropriate degree of harmony:
“The modern conception of rights is that of a matrix with different rights and freedoms mutually reinforcing each other to build a strong and durable human rights system.”
Really? A Matrix as in the illusory world created to maintain a supine citizenry by secretive government agents? Or some sort of intricate biological sequencing very few people can understand? No matter. In the old days, “human rights” meant rights for humans. Now it means building a “human rights system,” which sounds a lot like just another government bureaucracy. Back in 1215, if you read Magna Carta Libertatum (my italics; I don’t think they had ’em back then), human rights meant the King was restrained by his subjects. Eight hundred years later, “human rights” CHRC-style means that the subjects get restrained by the Crown, in the form of Queen Jennifer. I liked it better the old way.
The greatest threat to human rights is always an abusive government. For example, in February last year, Cameroon security forces shot and killed over 100 demonstrators. According to Cameroon barrister Joseph Lavoisier Tsapy, detainees are routinely stripped, beaten and then thrown into dumpsters filled with broken glass and ashes from burned tires. In 1997, Titus Edzoa, after announcing he would be running for the Cameroon presidency against long-time strongman Paul Biya, was suddenly arrested and has been in jail ever since. In March last year, 155 Cameroon detainees appeared for trial at the Douala Court of First Instance beaten and clad only in their underwear. In February, the publishers of Le Front, a newspaper in Yaoundé, reported on the high salaries of government officials, after which the police showed up, bound and blindfolded them, and took them away. According to Amnesty International, in 2007 at least nine men and four women were convicted of homosexuality.
Okay, Steyn, that’s enough Cameroonian rolling news updates: what’s your point? Only this. Ever since Commissar Lynch decided to insert herself into my life, I’ve made it my job to keep at least as extensive a file on Jennifer as her organization keeps on those Canadian citizens of whom it disapproves. And I was struck by the chief commissar’s introductory remarks at last October’s “Discrimination Prevention Forum” in Ottawa:
“From year to year, we generate more interest in the global human rights community. I extend a warm welcome to our distinguished international guests, Mr. Divine Chemuta Banda, Chief Commissioner of the Cameroon National Human Rights and Freedom Commission, and Mr. Moise Segue, also from the Cameroon Commission. We are pleased to have with us Mr. Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, and Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall, from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, who bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to our gathering.”
What’s so “distinguished” about the Cameroon Human Rights Commissioner? Cameroon has an appalling human rights record. Freedom House ranks the country not merely as “not free,” but as one of the 20 worst nations on earth for political rights and civil liberties, down there at the bottom of the barrel with Burma, Equatorial Guinea, North Korea and Sudan. Why weren’t they among the “distinguished guests” at Commissar Lynch’s “Discrimination Prevention Forum”? Not enough Air Canada frequent-flyer miles?
If you schmooze enough Third World thug states, it’s not surprising your postmodern cultural relativism starts to drift past the point of no return. As Commissar Lynch primly notes in her report, America’s First Amendment absolutism on free speech is out of step with the “growing global consensus”—that would be the “growing global consensus” represented by the CHRC and its “distinguished guests.” Take Sweden and Cameroon, split the difference, and that should be enough human rights for anyone.
In an op-ed for the Globe and Mail, Jennifer Lynch justified her report on the grounds that it would assist a “balanced debate.” That same day, CTV booked her and Ezra Levant, author of Shakedown, the bestselling book about Canada’s “human rights” regime, on to Power Play, to have that, er, “debate” she’s always talking about. When Queen Jennifer heard Ezra was to be on the show, she refused to debate him, and demanded he be bounced from the airwaves. As Kathy Shaidle put it: “Canada’s Official Censor Tries To Censor TV Debate About Censorship.”
Okay, if she won’t debate Ezra, I’d be happy to do it. All very “balanced”: Maclean’s can sponsor it, Steve Paikin or some such public-TV cove can anchor it. Name the date, I’ll be there. But, in the absence of any willingness to debate, reasonable people pondering Canada’s strangely ambitious Official Censor might object not just philosophically but on Professor Moon-like utilitarian grounds: if you’re not smart enough to debate Ezra Levant, you’re not smart enough to police the opinions of 30 million people.