“Do not think for a moment that your First Amendment will protect you from these commissions.”
—Kathy Shaidle, Canadian blogger
“When you lose track of your purpose, you start thinking your purpose is to do everything.”
—Peter Vere, Canadian journalist
No target is too small for Canada’s “human rights” machine.
Kathy Shaidle’s blog, “Five Feet of Fury”1 (she’s actually 4’11”), along with several other conservative blogs, is in the crosshairs of a libel suit filed by Canada’s busiest “human rights” apparatchik.
“It’s about political censorship, the abuse of government power, and the freedom of the blogosphere,” writes another defendant in the suit, Ezra Levant.2 “[Plaintiff Richard] Warman wants to marginalize and perhaps even criminalize conservative ideas … It’s part of a global attempt to squelch ideas about liberty and other western values.”
Chalcedon interviewed Kathy Shaidle and Peter Vere to get to the heart of the story—a story that might hit closer to home than many American readers think.
The Tyranny of Nice
Shaidle and Vere have written a book, The Tyranny of Nice, detailing and analyzing the abuses of liberty—some of them decidedly bizarre—practiced by Canada’s “human rights” commissions and tribunals.3 Already in its second printing, the book has just been picked up by the Conservative Book Club.
In the meantime, Shaidle and some of her fellow bloggers have already laid out “thousands of dollars each,” she said, defending themselves from a libel action that has not yet come to trial.
“So far, it’s been paid for by donations from my readers,” Shaidle said. “But once you’re caught up in the human rights system, you can never get your money back. I guess they figure no one will ever be found not guilty.”
The bloggers’ “crime,” she explained, was to publish on the Internet a transcript of a Canadian Human Rights Commission hearing—supposedly a public hearing—in which Richard Warman was involved.
Warman, formerly employed by the commission as an investigator, has made a name for himself—and a great deal of money—filing “Section 13” human rights complaints against various defendants. In fact, in a list of “hate speech” decisions posted on a government website, Warman is named as the plaintiff in eleven of thirteen cases.4
“Our lawyers are talking to Warman’s lawyers, but we won’t settle,” Shaidle said. “We shouldn’t be punished for publishing a public hearing on the Internet. We were only reporting the news.”
The problem with this hearing was that the defendant accused Warman of corrupt investigative practices, including outright entrapment, falsifying evidence, and invading the privacy of a citizen who had nothing whatsoever to do with the case. In an April 9, 2008, posting on his blog, Ezra Levant gave the particulars of these abuses.5
“Neither the government nor the judiciary has tried to rein in these tribunals that trample on our legal rights,” Peter Vere said. “That’s why we wrote the book. A book about this needed to be written.”
“This gang of government bureaucrats have murdered reputations and terrorized employers, religious leaders, and publishers for over a decade, through torturous investigations and quasi-judicial hearings,” proclaims The Tyranny of Nice.6
The book details many “human rights” cases, some of which have been reported on by Chalcedon.7 But we have not gotten around to some of the more extreme examples reported in this book:
- A “human rights” commission forced a bar owner to allow a customer to smoke marijuana on the premises—even though another government agency advised him that public marijuana use is illegal in Canada, and if he allows it on his property, he’ll lose his liquor license!
- A McDonald’s restaurant in Vancouver incurred a $50,000 fine for insisting that a food-handling employee wash her hands before handling food that was to be served to customers. The Vancouver Human Rights Tribunal found “no evidence of the relationship between food contamination and hand-washing.” Hepatitis, anyone?
- A stand-up comic was charged with a hate crime for talking back to a pair of tipsy lesbians who heckled him.
“We’ve only scratched the surface in this book,” Peter Vere said. “There are so many cases, we just can’t keep up with all of them.”
Some of these cases may seem amusing, until one reflects that the defendants—“victims” might be a better word—are mostly ordinary citizens for whom it’s a catastrophe to be hit with thousands of dollars’ worth of fines, the destruction of a business, the ruin of a reputation, not to mention legal costs, which, under Canada’s “human rights” regime, are all paid by the state on behalf of the plaintiff, while the defendant must pay his own. This can run literally into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The process is totally unfair,” Vere said. “These commissions and tribunals have established jurisprudence that destroys freedoms and creates precedents whereby government can come in and suppress liberty.”
With a “human rights” commission and/or tribunal in each Canadian province, along with the CHRC on the federal level, there is no limit to the number of times a defendant can be investigated and punished for the same offense. “We have no double jeopardy rule to protect us,” Vere said. “We are subject to double jeopardy, triple jeopardy, multiple jeopardy.”
Under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a hate crime occurs when someone’s actions or words seem “likely” to expose a person to hatred or contempt—“likely” denoting the boundless expanse of an indefinite future. The complainant’s feelings are accepted as evidence, and it is not necessary for the plaintiff to prove he has incurred any damages from the defendant’s actions. Written law, case law, precedent, rules of evidence, presumption of innocence—none of these have any bearing on the proceedings of a “human rights” tribunal.
“No Christian has ever been acquitted of ‘hate speech’ by one of these tribunals,” Vere said.
“Taming the Internet”
How credible is the charge that the Canadian Human Rights Commission is trying to censor the Internet? For an answer, we visited an official CHRC website and found an article by law professor Jane Bailey, Strategic Alliances: The Inter-Related Roles of Citizens, Industry and Government in Combating Internet Hate.8
The most intriguing thing about this document is that although the subject is “hate,” and how to purge it from the Internet, the term “hate” is never defined: a rather puzzling omission by a law professor. For all the alarmism about “hate propaganda,” and the need for “identifying hate speech,” we are never told exactly what “hate speech” is.
But we know from having covered many of these stories that “hate speech” is anything that a gay activist, a feminist, or a Muslim says is “hate speech.” No definition is needed. Since the matter is entirely subjective, no definition is possible.
Citing a need for “Internet governance,” Professor Bailey wishes to enlist “individual citizens, Internet and technology-based businesses, NGOs and governments … and citizen collectives” in a vast crusade that is to include “[s]trong public expressions of disapprobation of hate propaganda”—undefined—“through legal regulation and proceedings.”
She suggests forcing Internet service providers to self-censor, and suing them if they don’t. So dire are the effects of “hate speech”—still undefined—that government, businesses, and private pressure groups must set up “hate hotlines,” install new technology to filter “hate,” and resort to litigation as often as seems necessary.
Canada’s mission to “tame the Internet” is of long standing. In 2006, Ezra Levant reported that Richard Warman, supported by the Canadian Jewish Congress, asked the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) “to censor foreign websites, by blocking Canadian Internet users from accessing them.”9
“It was an attempt to replicate the Orwellian ‘Great Firewall of China’ that the Chinese Communist Party uses to stop politically incorrect websites from reaching that country,” Levant wrote.
The CRTC rejected the proposal—but then, reported Levant, “the CJC wanted the CHRC to find other ways ‘to provide ISPs [Internet service providers] with the motivation and the ability’ to block foreign sites. That is, to do exactly what the CRTC … forbids them to do: tamper with content on the Internet.”
As we have seen from Professor Bailey’s article on the CHRC’s own website, the “human rights” establishment is committed to the idea of censoring the Internet, although it has not yet obtained any legal authority to do so.
Hence the libel suits against Kathy Shaidle and the other bloggers; it seems the censors have decided there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
How Has It Come to This?
How has Canada, once a free country, come to this?
“Definitely, Canada is no longer a Christian nation,” Peter Vere said. “The government and most of the culture has become very secular, very anti-Christian. They’ve lost sight of the fact that society’s primary purpose is to protect and nurture the family. When you lose track of your purpose, you start thinking your purpose is to do everything.”
Drifting away from Christianity, Kathy Shaidle said, has left Canadian culture hollow at its core.
“Canadians are not Americans—and that’s the only thing they’re proud of anymore,” she said. “They want the government to protect them from conflict.
“It’s about cowardice. It’s about not having anything to believe in anymore. No one’s going to fight and die on Juno Beach for recycling.
“Even our Conservative Party isn’t really conservative, and certainly isn’t Christian. Conservatism without Christianity is nothing. It has no gold to back it up.”
Much of the public support for the human rights agencies, she said, has been generated by scare tactics.
“We’re told that if people read ‘hateful’ things, Canada will turn into Rwanda overnight,” she said. “We’re told that Canada is infested with neo-Nazi groups just waiting to take over. Heck, there are more Nazis in a rerun of Hogan’s Heroes than there are in all of Canada. The government constantly tries to put forward this neo-Nazi canard; and then you see the crazy targets they actually decide to go after—like Alphonse de Valk, a Catholic priest, instead of some Muslim extremist who really does want to kill all the Jews.”
Apolitical, secular Canadians, Shaidle said, have allowed their government to “protect” them from imaginary threats.
“Our human rights commissions only got this powerful because ordinary people either looked the other way, or outright defended them as ‘well-intentioned,’” she said. “Even now, after all the bad publicity, there’s still a wide sentiment that maybe speech should be regulated.”
Spoiling for a Fight
In spite of the ascendancy of the “human rights” commissions, Kathy Shaidle has not yet given up on Canada.
“We could take our country back, if you could just convince people that they’re not alone,” she said. “Our conservative blogosphere is colossal, and one day it’s going to spill over into the real world.
“The world is not Toronto and Vancouver; but in Canada, that’s where all the power is centralized.”
Meanwhile, the libel suit against her is an annoyance, and also a disappointment.
“I’ve been trying to get charged with a hate crime for years now,” she said. “I wouldn’t respond in the normal way, I can tell you.
“Human rights commissions have the power to seize private property without a warrant—your computer, for instance. Well, I’d like to film that! I’d like to film them breaking down the door and grabbing my computer. I’d like for a lot of people to see that.”
Coming to America …
A few of the cases described in The Tyranny of Nice are American cases.
“Americans need to wake up,” Peter Vere said. “They need to fight this battle because this stuff is spreading south of the border. The big danger is that America is adopting many of the same practices that we have in Canada. If freedom is snuffed out in America, it won’t survive anywhere.”
Chalcedon has reported on a few of these American “human rights” cases—the Christian photographer in New Mexico who was fined $6,000 for refusing to photograph a lesbian “wedding”;10 the Methodist church in New Jersey stripped of part of its tax exemption for not allowing same-sex “marriages” to be performed on its property.11
Now, in the wake of America’s national elections, persons receptive to Canadian-style speech restrictions have risen to power.
“Expect an atmosphere of intimidation,” Kathy Shaidle said. “Americans have a much stronger sense of freedom than Canadians do, even if that ‘freedom’ is nothing more than a vague sense that they have the ‘right’ to do whatever they feel like doing.”
But if the American people are vague about such things, those in government who would abridge freedom are chillingly precise.
On the immediate legislative horizon are such schemes as:
- Various federal “hate crime” laws, held back for the past eight years by the threat of a presidential veto, will certainly be reintroduced in the new Congress.12
- The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which could be used to force Christian organizations to hire transvestites, openly practicing sodomites, and other deviants, is sure to be reintroduced.13
- Congressional Democrats have called for the reimposition of the “Fairness Doctrine”—which would give the government the power to dictate the content of radio broadcasts, and probably drive conservative talk radio into extinction.14
Kathy Shaidle and Peter Vere are not able to tell us how to protect our liberties from a government determined to encroach on them. Out of frustration with its predecessor, and fear of current disruptions in the economy, the American people have elected such a government.
Canada has at least provided us with examples of Christians, and some Jews, who have refused, under pressures not yet experienced by Americans, to bow the knee to the false idol of “human rights.” Kari Simpson. Ron Gray. Ezra Levant. Rev. Stephen Boissoin, Fr. Alphonse de Valk. Kathy Shaidle. And there are many more whom we have not yet interviewed.
We pray. We labor to set up Christian schools and Christian homeschooling programs so children can be brought up with a Christian education, resistant to the seductions of secularism. We labor to reform the churches so that God’s Word, and not the word of addled, sinful man, might be preached. We report on developments in Canada, here at home and elsewhere, so that our fellow citizens might be forewarned. We study our Bibles and try to conform our lives, and our family lives, to God’s laws.
We do all these things in faith, “because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
1. See www.fivefeetoffury.com.
2. Ezra Levant, “Richard Warman has sued me—and other conservative bloggers,” April 9, 2008, http://ezralevant.com/2008/04/richard-warman-has-sued-me-and.html.
3. Not available in bookstores, but it can be ordered via http://www.fivefeetoffury.com.
4. Canadian Human Rights Commission, http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/proactive_initiatives/hoi_hsi/qa_qr/page4-en.asp.
5. Ezra Levant, “Richard Warman has sued me.”
6. All quotations from the book are by permission of the authors.
7. See our website, www.chalcedon.edu, for these articles, including “Canadian ‘Human Rights’ Commissions Bear Down on Christian Clergymen,”http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=2886; “Canadian Doctors Warned to ‘Set Aside’ God’s Law,” http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=2885; and “Fighting the ‘Human Rights’ Machine,”http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=2887.
8. Canadian Human Rights Commission, http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/proactive_initiatives/hoi_hsi/page5-en.asp?highlight=1.
9. Ezra Levant, Bernie Farber: the Internet “must be tamed,”http://ezralevant.com/2008/03/trying-to-block-foreign-websit.html.
10. “How ‘Human Rights’ Commissions Erode Religious Freedom,”http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=2864.
11. “Church Won’t Perform Lesbian ‘Union,’ So State Revokes Tax Exemption,”http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=2783.
12. “New Hate Crime Bill: Power Grab!” http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=2702; also, “Hate Crime Bill Rides Again,”http://www.chalcedon.edu/articles/article.php?ArticleID=178
13. Employment Non-Discrimination Acts (ENDA), http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_empl2.htm.
14. John Eggerton, “Schumer Comments Prompt New Fairness Doctrine Concerns,” Broadcasting & Cable, November 5, 2008, http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA6611851.html?rssid=193.