Monday, June 9, 2008

Two American Web sites - one conservative, the other Catholic - are at the heart of a Canadian prov incial government hearing against Maclean’s magazine, Canada‘s largest national newsweekly.

The magazine was brought before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal after publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s best-seller “America Alone” under the title “The Future Belongs to Islam.” The first part of the hearing began last Monday and ran until Friday afternoon.

The American Web sites introduced by the complainants are FreeRepublic, a popular conservative discussion forum, and Catholic Answers, an evangelism and apologetics site popular among young Catholics. Both American sites are based in California.

Faisal Joseph, an attorney for the Muslim group that brought the charges against Maclean’s, introduced discussions on the two U.S. sites as evidence that Mr. Steyn’s 2006 article had exposed Muslims in North America to hate. Posters on both forums had commented on the Maclean’s article, with some comments expressing strong anti-Islamic sentiment.

Mr. Joseph also cited postings from Five Feet of Fury, the Web site run by Canadian blogger Kathy Shaidle, and the Brussels Journal, a Web site that styles itself “the voice of conservatism in Europe.”

Maclean’s has no control over how anonymous Internet posters respond to articles that appear in its magazine - particularly when the Web sites hosting the discussion are outside Canada’s jurisdiction and the commentators are Americans protected by the First Amendment, attorneys for Maclean’s argued.

The defense also pointed out the complaint was initiated by Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, who is from the central Canadian province of Ontario, rather than the Pacific Coast province of British Columbia (B.C.), where the case was heard.

Numerous Canadians and Americans following the hearing denounced the case as absurd and that it is a threat to free speech that a provincial tribunal is asserting jurisdiction over the writings of a best-selling author residing in New Hampshire, based upon an out-of-province complainant offended by the response of anonymous American readers on American Web sites.

“The reason why they went after us … in B.C. is because the legislation in B.C. is so open-ended,” wrote Andrew Coyne, a Maclean’s writer covering the Vancouver hearing for the magazine. The legislation applies to any sign, statement, publication, symbol or such document that “is likely to expose someone to hatred or contempt,” he said.

Complainants do not have to prove a communication caused contempt or exposed a person to contempt, Mr. Coyne said. No specific harm or damage need be proven, either.

“They just have to show … that it was likely to,” Mr. Coyne said. “You can prove just about anything under that … ridiculously low standard.”

The introduction of the American and other Web sites also was strongly objected to by Maclean’s attorneys because the evidence was not disclosed in advance - an objection the panel rejected.

“The complainants showed up the night before the case - indeed on the day - with documents that the respondent, Maclean’s magazine, had never seen and just dumped these on us,” Mr. Coyne said.

The tribunal appeared to making up the rules as the hearing proceeded, he said, noting that the tribunal’s panelists had no prior training as judges and that a “real court” would have instantly dismissed the introduction of the Web postings that were not previously disclosed.

“In real courts, evidence is covered by rules of procedure,” said Ezra Levant, a former magazine publisher and the subject of another province’s human rights commission investigation. “This means the case against you has to be disclosed in advance.”

The tribunals do not operate according to standard rules of evidence, Mr. Levant said in his live blogging from the Maclean’s hearing - a point Mr. Levant had used to pour scorn on the Alberta tribunal that was hearing his case.

Neither Mr. Elmasry nor his attorney responded to a request for comment by The Washington Times.

Noting that several U.S. states are considering legislation that would institute similar human rights commissions and tribunals, Mr. Coyne said Americans should take a close look at what is happening with the Maclean’s hearing before adopting these institutions.

Mr. Levant agreed.

“What happens in Canada today often happens in the United States tomorrow,” Mr. Levant said.

“We’re like a political laboratory for bad experiments,” he said, citing speech codes on university campuses as an example of how American freedoms have eroded because of Canadian influence.

This is not the first time FreeRepublic has come under the watch of Canada’s human rights commissions. About a year ago, its Canadian sister-site FreeDominion was forced to move its servers to Panama in the fallout from its own federal human rights investigation.

Tarek Fatah, the Muslim Canadian author of “Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State” and a founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, denounced the tribunals as likely to turn Westerners against Muslims.

“If at all there will be a anti-Muslim backlash, it will be because the Canadian Islamic Congress and Mr. Elmasry contributed significantly to it,” Mr. Fatah told the Washington Times.

A practicing Muslim, Mr. Fatah accused the Canadian Islamic Congress of being agent provocateurs for Islamists by trying to provoke such a backlash.

“My feeling is - and I could be wrong - but they’re trying to trigger a backlash against Muslims, so that the imams and the Hamas and the Hezbollah people back in the Middle East can say: ‘Look, we told you that the West is at war with Islam,’” he said.

Mr. Levant agreed, saying that “this political ploy to roll over Canada with censorship - that’s what is causing hatred and contempt from Canadians.”

Mr. Fatah, who has criticized Mr. Steyn’s book, said the vast majority of Canadian Muslims do not support the Islamists and crowed over a planned demonstration that the complainants had tried to organize at the hearing, since Vancouver boasts one of Canada’s largest Muslim populations.

“Not a single person showed up,” Mr. Fatah said. “The vast majority of the Muslim community are sick and tired of these crybabies. We have a good life in Canada.”

Mr. Fatah also dared Canada’s human rights tribunals, which he referred to as “a politically correct … kangaroo … troika,” to bring a case against him for repeating many of Mr. Steyn’s criticisms of radical Islamists.

“I would love to be hauled before the tribunal,” he said. “I would tell them to their faces that you are political appointees, this is not a court of law … and you are not judges, you are jokers.”

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