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SAULT STE. MARIE, Ontario

An attempt to have a Canadian panel stifle Mark Steyn poses a threat to American freedom of speech, the conservative columnist says.

The Canadian author told The Washington Times in a telephone interview that the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) agreeing to investigate a Muslim complaint against him opens a new front on threats to Canadians’ press and religious freedom: speech that originates in the United States.

“There are attempts to circumscribe the First Amendment, and certain groups have become very adept at using legal and quasi-legal methods to restrict discussion and what’s discussed,” said Mr. Steyn, who spends half the year living in New Hampshire and writes for several U.S.-based publications.

Under Canadian law, the CHRC investigates purported incidents of hate speech and discrimination and refers some to the quasi-judicial Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which can impose fines or issue restraint orders.

Mr. Steyn became subject to a CHRC investigation last month when the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) complained about an excerpt Mr. Steyn had reprinted from “America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It,” Mr. Steyn’s best-seller published by U.S.-based Regnery Publishing.

Mr. Steyn contrasted Islamic values with Western values and spoke of the growing Muslim demographic in the West and the declining birthrate among other Western populations.

“The Muslim world has youth, numbers and global ambitions,” stated Mr. Steyn in an opening summary of what was to follow. “The West is growing old and enfeebled, and lacks the will to rebuff those who would supplant it. It’s the end of the world as we’ve known it.”

The excerpt appeared in the Oct. 23, 2006, edition of Maclean’s, Canada’s most-widely circulated newsweekly, under the title “The Future Belongs to Islam.”

“This article completely misrepresents Canadian Muslims’ values, their community and their religion,” said Faisal Joseph in a CIC press release dated Dec. 4.

Mr. Joseph, CIC’s legal counsel, is a former crown attorney — the Canadian equivalent to district attorney in the U.S.

“We feel that it is imperative to challenge Maclean’s biased portrayal of Muslims in order to protect Canadian multiculturalism and tolerance,” Mr. Joseph said.

Mr. Steyn told The Times that the complaint endangers freedom of the press on both sides of the border, and that both he and Maclean’s are prepared to fight this case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary.

“Basically, everything is fair game if it was to become accepted that the commission has the right to weight the merits of individual articles and the media,” Mr. Steyn said. “The [Canadian and provincial] commissions are a threat to free speech, which is why people on various parts of the spectrum have identified them as the easiest way to shut down an opponent’s speech that one does not like.”

Left unchecked, Mr. Steyn said the CHRC could bring about a relationship between the state and the press similar to that of the former Soviet Union, in which “basically the state regulates the bounds of public expression.”

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