It's all very odd, 'that's for sure'
Why should Richard Warman be the only citizen to have his own personal inquisition?
MARK STEYN | January 17, 2008 |
Our lesson for today comes from Shirlene McGovern:
"You're entitled to your opinions, that's for sure."
Clichés are the reflex mechanisms of speech — "Yeah, sure, it's a free country. Everyone's entitled to his opinion, right?" And we get so careless with them that we don't even notice when they become obsolescent.
But Shirlene McGovern should. Because it's her job to determine whether you — yes, you, Gordy Schmoe of 37b Hoser Crescent — are entitled to your opinions. Miss McGovern is a "human rights agent" with Alberta's "human rights" commission, and she was officially interrogating Ezra Levant as to why, in his capacity as publisher of the Western Standard, he had reproduced in his magazine the so-called "Danish cartoons." As you'll recall from a year or so back, these were representations of the Prophet Muhammad published in the widely unread newspaper Jyllands-Posten, but which nevertheless prompted the usual surprisingly coordinated campaign of vandalism, death threats, mayhem and murder by the more excitable Muslims in various parts of the world. I doubt, had I been the editor of Jyllands-Posten, I would have published the original cartoons, because most of them weren't terribly good. But once the drawings became an international news story it seems absurd to publish reports on the controversy without also showing what all the fuss is about. CNN did show the cartoons, but with the Prophet's face all blurry and pixilated — the first time, I believe, that this familiar technique of investigative TV journalism has been applied not to a human being but to a, er, drawing, as if the cartoon Muhammad had entered the witness protection program.
In reality, it was the CNN guys who were hoping they were in the witness protection program. Back in Jutland, the cartoonists had originally accepted the Muhammad assignment in order to test the boundaries of freedom of speech in Denmark. And they failed only insofar as the episode tested freedom's boundaries not in Denmark, where nobody has been prosecuted; nor in the U.S., where CNN's craven straddle artfully finessed the issue; nor in France, where the sole editor to publish the cartoons was subsequently fired by his boss, as is a private employer's right; nor even at the European Union, whose commissioner for justice and security proposed a "media code" that would encourage, ah, "prudence" in the way the press covers, ahem, certain touchy subjects, but who was at least at pains to emphasize that these restraints would be "self-regulated" by the press themselves.
No, the Western jurisdiction in which the Danish cartoons have most comprehensively demonstrated the constraints on free expression is our own decayed dominion: only in Canada have the commissars of the state launched an official investigation for the alleged "crime" of publishing the cartoons. Last week, sitting across the table from Shirlene McGovern, Ezra Levant launched into an impassioned denunciation of his interrogation. He took the quaint view that his "freedom of expression" was not the generous if qualified gift of Trudeaupian bureaucrats but his inalienable right and one bolstered in this country by 800 years of English Common Law as well as more modish innovations such as the 1946 UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Canada likes that last one so much it sticks it on the back of the $50 bill, even though we are in sustained and systemic breach of its provisions on free expression. Yes, yes, I know: so are Sudan and North Korea, but come on, is that really the league you want to play in?
In the course of his interrogation, Mr. Levant also pointed out that the time and money Canada's "human rights" pseudo-courts cost publishers has a broader "chilling effect" — on all the stories that will never see the light of day because at the back of some editor's mind is the calculation of the cost of fending off Shirlene McGovern. And, at the end of this exchange, Agent McGovern, licensed to chill, looked blandly across the table and shrugged: "You're entitled to your opinions, that's for sure."
No, sorry. That cliché is no longer operative in Canada. Today you're only entitled to your opinions if Agent McGovern says you are — "for sure." Ezra Levant was of the opinion that he should publish the Danish cartoons. That opinion is now on trial. Ken Whyte, the executive honcho at Maclean's, was of the opinion he should publish an excerpt from my book. That opinion comes up for trial at the British Columbia "Human Rights" Tribunal in June, and at the Canadian "Human Rights" Tribunal shortly thereafter, and most likely at the Ontario "Human Rights" Tribunal a little way down the road.