The charge levelled against Maclean's by the Canadian Islamic Congress is that, in publishing an excerpt from my book, this magazine exposed Muslims to "hatred and contempt." Alas, at the first day of the Great Maclean's Show Trial at the British Columbia "Human Rights" Tribunal, the well of my book excerpt's "hatred and contempt" pretty well ran dry in the first hour. So Faisal Joseph, counsel for the plaintiff Mohamed Elmasry, was forced to bus in a huge pile of miscellaneous generic "hatred and contempt" from all kinds of other sources. And even then much of it seemed less like "hatred and contempt" than "mild offhandedness and the occasional droll titter." A lot of it was from me, of course. Mr. Joseph started with my article, but quickly moved on to my book, my columns, my sitcom review, my lame jokes, and no doubt (by the time you read this) my casual asides while muttering to myself on top of Mount Logan during a windstorm. At the end of the first day, m'learned friend was complaining that I had been rude to the three Osgoode Hall law students who've been fronting for the strangely shy and retiring Dr. Elmasry these last six months. Not rude to them in the article in this space that triggered the complaint. No, apparently I was rude to them at TVOntario last month. Not rude to them on-air (although it was a somewhat raucous show), but rude to them off-camera. Geez, these days I don't seem to be able to step out of the house without committing a hate crime.
Just for the record (and before it becomes chiselled in the granite of British Columbia "human rights" jurisprudence), I wasn't aware I was being rude to my accusers after the TVOntario show. The very last words on air were me saying, "You wanna go to dinner?", and Khurrum Awan yelling back "No!" But, as the host Steve Paikin and his producers reported at some length on their website, Khurrum and I and the two gals stuck around for an hour of relatively civil conversation. In fact, I got the impression one of the ladies was growing rather fond of me, which, to be honest, was the main reason I hung about. But, now I come to think of it, that was the way it went at high school. You figure you're doing great and then next morning you overhear her telling her best friend by the lockers that she thought you were a dweeby limpet with halitosis. Unfortunately, in today's fractious legal environment, if Khurrum Awan thinks you're a dweeby limpet with halitosis who can't dance and has dried sweat rings under his cheesecloth shirt, he can add it to the long list of actionable "human rights" grievances to be laid before multiple tribunals and commissions.
Even so, after six months of assurances from Canadian "human rights" commissars that if we don't police hate-mongers like Steyn a new Holocaust will be upon us, I think witnesses were expecting a bit more red meat than the assertion that I can be a bit boorish over the green-room Perrier. As legal scholars who'd attended the "trial" under the misapprehension that it bore some dim resemblance to conventional legal proceedings observed, it was hard to see what the post-show chit-chat after a television broadcast in 2008 had to do with a 2006 Maclean's cover story, which is, after all, supposed to be the hate crime under investigation. But it's even harder to see what any of this has to do with British Columbia or the "British Columbia Muslim community," on whose behalf this "human rights" suit is being brought. TVOntario is, despite its deceptive name, a TV network in Ontario. It is not broadcast in British Columbia. Khurrum Awan, the Osgoode Hall law student on the witness stand, is an alumnus of the Osgoode Hall in Toronto, not some entirely different Osgoode Hall at Fort Nelson. He lives in Mississauga, which is a suburb of Buckinghorse River. Whoops, my mistake. I mean Toronto. He works in Ontario, as an employee of the very barrister examining him in that Vancouver courtroom, fellow Ontario resident Faisal Joseph. Indeed, it is unclear whether Mr. Awan had ever set foot in British Columbia until he and Mr. Joseph and the rest of their vast Ontario delegation flew out to the coast to testify to the pain and suffering of the British Columbia Muslim community they claim to represent. When the Ontarian Mr. Awan and his fellow Ontarians agreed to appear on an Ontario TV show, there were no members of the British Columbia Muslim community present, either in the studio, the makeup room or the men's toilet (I cannot vouch for the ladies'). As they'd say in Hollywood, no members of the British Columbia Muslim community were harmed in the making of this program.
Yet, with the cheerful insouciance one has come to cherish from Canada's "human rights" regime, the troika of B.C. "jurists" had no difficulty permitting all this extraterritorial evidence from extraterritorial witnesses employed by the extraterritorial lawyer and the extraterritorial plaintiff to be entered in a case allegedly about "human rights" in British Columbia. The "chair" of the troika, Commissar Heather MacNaughton, sits under the coat of arms bearing the ancient motto of the Crown, symbolizing the robust threads of precedent and continuity that tie the Robson Square courthouse to 800 years of legal inheritance: "Dieu et mon droit." "Dieu" doesn't seem to get much respect in the system these days, though Allah can still expect a modicum of deference. As to mon own particular droit — to due process, to the presumption of innocence, and to confront my accusers in a fair trial — that seems to have gone by the board.
So, as Faisal Joseph dredged up TV broadcasts from Ontario (which is not within British Columbia's jurisdiction), obscure blog posts from the Internet (which is not within this tribunal's jurisdiction), plus reports of his own press conference in Toronto (a well-known city in British Columbia, apparently) and snippets from the Brussels Journal (based in the capital city of the European Union, which British Columbia has presumably joined), Maclean's counsel Julian Porter, Q.C., pointed out that, whatever the debate in these various fora, they had nothing to do with my article but rather were responses to the various "human rights" suits launched by the Canadian Islamic Congress. At the opening of Tuesday's proceedings, Faisal Joseph announced that he wanted to devote that day not to me or Maclean's or the substance of my article but to the media and blogospheric reaction to the complaints. In other words, he was explicitly confirming Porter's point — insofar as anything has exposed Khurrum Awan to "hatred and contempt," it's not the Maclean's cover story but his own lawsuit. Whether or not it is appropriate (or even legal) for Canadians to be "contemptuous" of the Canadian Islamic Congress's thuggish assault on ancient liberties, the fact is Mr. Awan's lawsuit has earned him far more "contempt" than anything in my article. He should be suing himself. Which would be less wacky than most of the admissibility rulings by the B.C. troika.
Obviously I deeply regret that I offended my accusers in the TVOntario off-air banter, even though I thought we were getting along swimmingly. It just goes to show, even when you have no idea you're committing a hate crime, chances are you still are. On the other hand, it also suggests limited potential for conflict resolution with the plaintiffs. For six months, Mr. Awan and the gals had been telling readers of the Globe And Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald and many other media outlets as far afield as the BBC, that all they wanted was an opportunity to "start a debate" with the Islamophobe Steyn. So we had a debate on TVOntario and now that turns out to be just the latest charge on the indictment. One can't help feeling that, if Maclean's had acceded to their demand for their own five-page cover story in the magazine, some perceived slight from the receptionist ("Sorry, we only have two per cent milk") when Mr. Awan turned up to issue his instructions to the printers could easily have triggered a fresh round of litigation.
Robert Frost once said that writing "free verse" was like playing poetry with the net down. The relationship of "human rights" tribunals to real courts seems to be like that: Julian Porter can whack some legalistic ace down the middle, but Faisal Joseph hurls back a box of golf balls he's flown in from Nunavut, and the umpires award him the point. By the way, I see I've been nominated for a National Magazine Award, to be handed out later this month. By then, Mr. Joseph will have succeeded in getting the B.C. troika effectively to ban me from Maclean's and from all Canadian journalism. An impressive achievement. My book was a No. 1 bestseller in Canada, and the new paperback edition was at No. 4 the other day, and President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Governor Mitt Romney, Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator Jon Kyl and (at last count) six European prime ministers have either recommended the book or called me in to discuss its themes. But in Canada it's a hate crime.
One thing I've learned these last few months is that it's always worse than you expect. The willingness of the B.C. troika's social engineers to trample over every basic rule of English law has embedded at the heart of Canadian justice a soft beguiling totalitarianism. I'll be the first No. 1 bestselling author and National Magazine Award-nominated columnist to be deemed unpublishable in Canada.
But I won't be the last.
Maclean's, June 2008