Mark Steyn: I hate to say I told you so. Actually, I don’t. I love it

As I have said, section 13 is not a right-left thing

<p>Vancouver, British Columbia &#8211; June 3, 2008 &#8211; Photographs taken outside the BC Provincial Courthouse of media and various participants in a hearing over a complaint by muslims about a column that appeared in Macleans magazine in 2006. PICTURED: Writer Mark Steyn.<br />
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Vancouver, British Columbia – June 3, 2008 – Photographs taken outside the BC Provincial Courthouse of media and various participants in a hearing over a complaint by muslims about a column that appeared in Macleans magazine in 2006. PICTURED: Writer Mark Steyn.

I hate to say I told you so. Actually, I don’t. I love it.
Richard Warman (photo by Tony Fouhse)

“Coloured people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Burn it.”

Thus, Ray Bradbury in his prescient 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451. On June 6, the day after Bradbury’s death at the age of 91, the House of Commons passed Brian Storseth’s private member’s bill repealing Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Fahrenheit 451 draws its name from the temperature at which books burn; Canada’s Fahrenheit 13 is its frosty northern inverse—the temperature at which the state chills freedom of expression. Free speech is the lifeblood of free societies, and, as this magazine has learned over the last half-decade, our decayed Dominion was getting a bad case of hypothermia.

We’re not alone in this. In Britain, Australia, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and many other places, democratic societies have become far too comfortable in policing the opinions of the citizenry. But even by comparison with our Commonwealth cousins and Western Europe, Section 13 and its provincial equivalents are repugnant—practically, philosophically, and operationally.

As a practical matter, an extremely narrow licence to combat the mortal threat to Canadians of 1970s answering machines effortlessly metastasized into investigating the country’s most-read magazine for publishing an excerpt from a No. 1 Canadian bestseller. Which was entirely predictable to everyone except genius jurists on the Supreme Court—because make-work bureaucracies are never going to content themselves with being a little bit pregnant.

Philosophically, it was a cure worse than the disease: Ian Fine, the senior counsel of the Canadian “Human Rights” Commission, declared that his organization was committed to the abolition of hatred—not “hate crimes,” not even “hate speech,” but hate—a human emotion; you know, like the human emotions the control-freak enforcers attempt to abolish in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Stepford Wives. Any society of free peoples will include its share of hate: it could not be human without it. And, as bad as racists and homophobes and Islamophobes and whateverphobes may be, empowering Mr. Fine’s ever more coercive enforcement regime to micro-regulate us into glassy-eyed compliance is a thousand times worse.

Operationally, Section 13 was stinkingly corrupt. There are some 34 million Canadians, yet just one individual citizen had his name on almost every Section 13 prosecution of the last decade. Just as Matthew Hopkins appointed himself England’s Witchfinder General in 1645 and went around the country turning in raven-tressed crones for the bounty of a pound per witch, so Richard Warman appointed himself Canada’s Hatefinder General and went around turning in shaven-headed tattooed losers in their mums’ basements for far more lucrative bounties of tens of thousands of dollars. He filed his complaints as a supposedly “offended” and “damaged” private citizen while an employee of Her Majesty’s Government. And, in fairness to Matthew Hopkins, he didn’t personally put on a pointy black hat and ride around on a broomstick. Whereas Mr. Warman joined Stormfront and other “white supremacist” websites and posted copious amounts of hate speech of his own, describing, for example, Jewish members of cabinet as “scum” and gays as a “cancer.” That’s how “hateful” Canada is: there’s so little “hate” out there that the country’s most famous Internet Nazi is a taxpayer-funded civil servant.

For Warman, there was little risk: you paid his costs, and the dice were loaded. After Hosni Mubarak was “re-elected” with 97.1 per cent of the vote, he was said to be furious with his officials for stealing too much of the election and making him look like one of those crude ham-fisted dictator-for-life types like Saddam and Kim Il-Sung. So next time round his officials arranged for him to “win” with a mere 96.3 per cent of the vote. Canada’s “human rights” commissars had no such squeamishness: until the tenacious Marc Lemire won his landmark victory in 2009, Section 13 prosecutions had a three-decade 100 per cent conviction rate even the Soviets might envy.

That wasn’t even the most basic affront. Until Maclean’s intervened in 2008, Lemire’s Section 13 trial was scheduled to be held in secret. I couldn’t quite believe this when I chanced to happen upon the “judge’s” rationale, and I suggested en passant that we should get Maclean’s estimable QC Julian Porter to file a whatchamacallit, a brief or motion or whatever, referencing precedents and other jurisprudential-type stuff, and put a rocket up these totalitarian buggers by treating their dank outhouse of pseudo-justice as a real courtroom subject to real law. Secret trials are for Beijing and Tehran, yet in the name of “human rights” they were introduced to Ottawa.

The line that sums up my objection to the racket was formulated by the Toronto blogger Kathy Shaidle: “You’re too stupid to tell me what to think.” In recent days, the last lonely defenders of the Canadian thought police have all volunteered to demonstrate Miss Shaidle’s proposition. The Opposition critic for “public safety,” Randall Garrison, bemoaned the demise of the commissars’ “power to educate Canadians.” “We do have a serious problem,” said Garrison. “If you take away the power to take [websites] down, it’s not clear they have any mandate to even talk to people about it and educate them about it.”

Unlike Canada’s government-in-waiting, I don’t want the state to have a “mandate” to “educate” the citizen about his opinions. Generally speaking, re-education camp hasn’t worked out so well in those systems that have adopted the Garrison program. Yet joining him, inevitably, in a final desperate defence of Section 13 is Bernie Farber, former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress and Barbara Hall’s rumoured successor as Ontario’s Chief Censor. Capt. Farber is determined to go down on the Good Ship Stupid. As evidence of the need for Section 13, Mr. Farber excitedly tweeted that “when Nazis rejoice we known [sic] something must be very wrong.” Section 13 is all that stands between you and jackboots on the 401!

Just for the record, the last “hate crime” conviction secured under Section 13 was an Internet post read by just eight people, which works out to 0.8 per cent of a Canadian per province, or, if you include territories, 0.6153 per cent of a Canadian—most of whom were undercover civil servants playing dress-up Nazis. Indeed, at least one of those 0.6153 per cent of a Canadian was Mr. Farber or one of his colleagues, since the CJC was an “interested party” on the suit and presumably, if they were that “interested,” they actually read the thing.

But nobody else did.

There is a tragic quality to the obtuseness of what Ezra Levant calls Canada’s “official Jews.” Europe is awash in explicit Jew-hatred on a scale unseen since the Second World War: synagogues are burned, schools are attacked, children are murdered, and, even on quieter days, Jews are enjoined to walk around Toulouse and Amsterdam and Malmo without any identifying marks of their faith. In Calgary, demonstrators of a certain, ahem, religio-cultural background march under placards proclaiming “Death to the Jews!” In Toronto, their comrades stand on sidewalks and express enthusiasm for a new Holocaust. But, as long as there’s one last penniless loser neo-Nazi getting his swastika tramp-stamp touched up at the tattoo parlor in Redneck Junction, Bernie knows his priorities. Canada’s “human rights” regime is less than useless against real threats to social tranquility, but it does enable cardboard crusaders to enjoy cosy sinecures pursuing phantom enemies.

Meanwhile, Warren Kinsella, whom older readers may recall as Jean Chrétien’s attack poodle, began his column bemoaning the end of Section 13 by asserting that people would now be free to use the words “Kike. Nigger. Faggot. Paki. Chink.”

Actually, lots of people use those words all the time. Mordecai Richler used to refer to his favorite berth at Le Mas des Oliviers as “the Kikes’ round table”; there is nary a gangster rapper for whom the epithet “nigger” is not as omnipresent as “moon” and “June” were in less attitudinal ditties; and the best-known comedy sketch of Canada’s acclaimed Kids in the Hall has just one word in the script, recurring over and over: “Fag.” As for “Chink,” a couple of years ago Kinsella himself was forced to make a grovelling apology to “the Chinese community” after an ill-advised jest about ordering the cat at his favourite restaurant in Ottawa: even the most censorious of politically correct enforcers occasionally forget themselves and accidentally behave like normal human beings. Kinsella made the mistake of assuming that, just as rappers can sing Strictly For My N.I.G.G.A.Z and gay comics can do fag jokes, so a Liberal of impeccable Trudeaupian credentials is free to engage in feline Sinophobia. You would think, after the Chinese cat got his tongue, that Mr. Kinsella might be somewhat chastened. But no, he too is determined to go down with the Good Ship Stupid:

The boy stood on the burning deck

When all but he had fled

Denouncing ev’ry naughty word

Emerging from his head.

“You weren’t hurting anyone, you were hurting only things!” wrote Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451. “You were simply cleaning up. Janitorial work, essentially. Everything to its proper place. Quick with the kerosene! Who’s got a match!” Toss ’em on the bonfire—criminal words, illegal cat jokes, they’re only things.

I wish Randall Garrison and the other defenders of censorship and secret trials and 100 per cent conviction rates understood. As I said here years ago, it’s not a right-left thing, it’s a free-unfree thing. And I’m glad the Parliament of Canada is finally on the right side of that divide.