The CRTC human rights commission ‘whitewash’: None dare call it conspiracy!

Including ITQ, at least for the moment, because — well, it seems distinctly possible that it simply isn’t one, and even if it is, it’s a pretty darned incompetent one. But  she’s getting ahead of herself, so let’s start at the beginning.

Last night, Stephen Taylor blogged about a curious after-the-fact edit of a section of the CRTC’s recently released report on Canada’s broadcast policy. He ran the two versions of the report through document comparison software, which revealed that the only significant difference between the two was the removal of the following paragraph:

“The history of the regulation of speech in this country does not engender confidence that such powers will be used wisely. Canada has experienced several instances in recent times where regulatory commissions of another type and armed with a different mission have challenged the right to say controversial things. The struggles of Ezra Levant,14 Mark Steyn15 and others have served as important warnings that regulatory authorities charged with combating racism, hatred, and other evils have consistently expanded their mandates, have abused their powers and eroded fundamental liberties. Wherever there is official orthodoxy, disagreement is heresy, and where there is heresy, there is usually an inquisition to root it out. After centuries ridding ourselves of thought control agencies, 20th century Canada re-invented them.”

That revelation led him to question the motivation behind the change — “Why did the CRTC feel that it was necessary to omit references to Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn’s battles with “regulatory authorities”? — under a headline that suggested that the “CRTC drop[ped] references to egregious abuses of HRCs” from the final report.

It’s a fair question, yes — but before we all leap headlong off the Cliffs of Conclusion, there are a few things that Taylor’s post doesn’t mention that are worth taking into consideration.

First off, the deleted paragraph was not, in fact, part of the CRTC’s “final report”. It originally appeared in a concurring report, which was written by CRTC commissioner Tim Denton, a lawyer specializing in telecommunications, broadcast and internet policy, who has previously – and frequently – written and spoken about his “current and abiding concerns for free speech in the light of attacks from Human Rights Commissions in Canada”.  Denton — not the CRTC — wrote the concurring report, and may well have amended his submission for reasons of his own. I’ve emailed him to find out whether that was the case, and will report back as soon if/when I hear anything back.

That said, ITQ worries that some of Taylor’s readers may wrongly assume, based on his post, that all references to HRCs were expunged from the report, which is – quite simply – not the case. If this really was an attempt by the CRTC to scrub the record clean, they need a bigger brush, since Denton still goes on at length about what he sees as the danger posed to freedom of expression by “speech-controlling bodies” like the CHRC in the current version of  his eport — which is definitely worth reading even if you don’t agree with all of his arguments:

Overt regulation is only the outer edge of the problem. So extensive are the Commission’s powers over broadcasters that it is easy to conceive regulation of speech by a wink and a nudge, by back channels, and by the very terms of the exemption order itself. It is entirely conceivable that such an exemption order could incorporate by reference the standards (or lack of them) agreeable to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, or any other speech-controlling body. In other words your right to communicate across the Internet could be revoked by administrative fiat for failure to comply with a speech code devised by parties other than the CRTC, if the Commission so established. Nor is it difficult to imagine a state of affairs where “broadcasters” across the Internet could be subject to some of the existing regulations, for instance, those concerned with linguistic, religious or political balance that apply to those who use “scarce” public airwaves. Imagine Pat Condell,18 the acerbic British atheist, having to “balance” his views about religion and religions if he were subject to Canadian broadcasting regulation, for example.

Much more important values are engaged by free speech than by preservation of an industrial policy for broadcasting, which is the aim of the Act. History shows that schemes of regulation – and censorship – have a tendency to expand, notwithstanding the decision the Commission has wisely made here.

Yes, the references to Steyn, Levant, “thought-control agencies” and inquistions are gone, but he still manages to make his point — and again, it’s very possible that Denton himself — and not the CRTC — took out the now-missing paragraph. As I said earlier, I’ve emailed Denton to find out if that’s the case — because if not, well, that would be a little bit odd, wouldn’t it? — and I’ll update this post when I get an answer.  Until then, let’s not accuse the CRTC of censorship — or the dreaded mainstream media of covering it up — until we know what really happened, ‘kay?

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.