The "free world" barely pretends to favor free speech these days. The triggered interns who infest the big publishing houses openly demand their employers pulp the latest manuscripts from J K Rowling and Jordan Peterson. The totalitarian wankers of the British police sit around the station all day monitoring Twitter for transphobic quips, which is far more congenial labor than getting off their flabby arses and catching criminals. The woke billionaires of social media boast openly of their success at "fortifying" the US election by memory-holing unhelpful content.
Beyond those specifics, there are few takers for the principle of "free speech". For most people under thirty - forty? fifty? - freedom of expression takes a back seat on ever more issues. On climate, Islam, race, immigration, LGBTQWERTY and of course ChiCom-19, there is one correct position and it is entirely legitimate therefore to quash any dissenting views.
In such a world it is no surprise to find that Justin Trudeau's ministry is preparing to restore "Section 13" of the Canadian Human Rights Code. The repeal of that vile law represents one of my few victories in the political realm. As the saying goes, there are no permanent victories in politics, and I would have a tougher time winning that battle today: The principled lefties (Margaret Wente) who offered support have themselves been canceled, and the queasier ones (Neil Macdonald) who objected on the grounds that all the attention was merely helping me sell even more books have been supplanted by more committed warriors who feel that, with Zuckerberg and Bezos at your back, there is no one so lofty he can't be brought low.
Even a decade ago, Stephen Harper's supposedly right-wing ideologues had no stomach for the fight. His "conservative" attorney-general was useless and his "conservative" human-rights commissar was on the other side. When the issue came up in Cabinet, the consensus was that "Steyn's going to lose" - as every other defendant had lost - and therefore there was no point getting involved. Maclean's was the country's biggest-selling news magazine, and its excerpt of America Alone was a short clip from a Number One Canadian bestseller. But the "human rights" commissions had feasted on fringe losers and had worked up an appetite for meatier fare.
And so it was that it was not the Government that moved to rid Canada of this awful law, but a plucky backbencher, Brian Storseth, in a private member's bill. Here is what I wrote nine years ago in Maclean's - June 2012 - when the abolition of Section 13 finally received Royal Assent:
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 6th, 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 Number One 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 the original witchfinder, Matthew Hopkins 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 (in the wake of our exposure of the racket) 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. Captain 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
Whence 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.
~Well, that last bit was wrong. Because in the intervening years we have reached the stage where free speech is now openly mocked as a weird fringe right-wing obsession. The left feels it has no need of freedom of expression because it controls the culture, and therefore in the new world of "approved speech" they're the ones who grant approval, so what's the problem?
Still and all, I am glad I won a decade ago. It taught me a lot about framing issues and shifting opinions, and those skills will surely come in useful in the dark years ahead.
~It was a very busy weekend at SteynOnline, beginning with our ongoing audio serialization of Mark Steyn's Passing Parade and my takes on a son and a wife: Kay Graham took over the family business (The Washington Post); Romano Mussolini found the bottom dropped out of his somewhat abruptly, and turned instead to jazz piano. Our Saturday movie date had Rick McGinnis calling his service, and my Sunday song selection celebrated the centenary of the great Erroll Garner. Our marquee presentation was the June edition of The Hundred Years Ago Show.
If you were too busy cowering before the Delta variant this weekend, I hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week begins. If you missed the latest audio edition of Steyn's Song of the Week, you can catch it again at 9pm Thursday UK time - that's 4pm North American Eastern.
Mark Steyn's Passing Parade and The Hundred Years Ago Show are special productions for members of The Mark Steyn Club. You can find more details about our Club here - and we also have a great gift membership.