Friday, June 27, 2008

CHRC Drops Complaint Against Maclean's

Deborah Gyapong rocks! I believe Ms. Gyapong can be credited with breaking the news to the blogosphere late yesterday that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has elected to not proceed with the complaint filed by Mohamed Elmasry and the Canadian Islamic Congress against Maclean's magazine, for publishing a surfeit of allegedly Islamophobic articles over a two-year period. At the centre of the storm was an excerpt of Mark Steyn's internationally best-selling book America Alone.

Attending the Prime Minister's garden party, who should she cross paths with but Mark Steyn enjoying a refreshing glass of Chardonnay. In fact, many other journalists and media types were among the invited guests. (I was not.) Ken Whyte, editor-in-chief of Maclean's was there, as was Kady O'Malley, whom you'll recall provided the live blogging for a CHRC hearing a couple of months ago. Deborah Gyapong writes:

Anyway, Kady O'Malley came up with her slim red BlackBerry in hand and told us the Canadian Human Rights Commission had dropped its complaint against Maclean's for the excerpt from Mark's book America Alone. Mark said he was disappointed, and joked that maybe he should appeal the decision.

Ken Whyte confirmed the news adding, as Gyapong notes, the "the commission did not issue a Barbara Hall-ish drive by verdict."

Maclean's has issued a statement -- part vindication, part defiance. While expressing pleasure at the CHRC's decision to dismiss the complaint, the press release adds:

Though gratified by the decision, Maclean's continues to assert that no human rights commission, whether at the federal or provincial level, has the mandate or the expertise to monitor, inquire into, or assess the editorial decisions of the nation's media. And we continue to have grave concerns about a system of complaint and adjudication that allows a media outlet to be pursued in multiple jurisdictions on the same complaint, brought by the same complainants, subjecting it to costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to say nothing of the inconvenience. We enthusiastically support those parliamentarians who are calling for legislative review of the commissions with regard to speech issues.

The CHRC explains its decision as follows:

Overall, however, the views expressed in the Steyn article, when considered as a whole and in context, are not of an extreme nature as defined by the Supreme Court in the Taylor decision. Considering the purpose and scope of section 13(1), and taking into account that an interpretation of s. 13 (1) must be consistent with the minimal impairment of free speech, there is no reasonable basis in the evidence to warrant the appointment of a Tribunal.

Many critics and skeptics of the HRCs (myself included) are now reviewing this development cautiously. There is still a verdict pending in B.C., and perhaps the CHRC decision to not proceed will send a clear signal to Heather McNaughton at the BCHRT. On the other hand, the BCHRT could be politically 'tone deaf' or have no instinct for self-preservation. Supporters of the HRCs will no doubt argue that this is evidence that the system works. That's a reasonable argument in a vacuum, but it does not account for the specific context of this case -- that is, the specific and extraordinary pressures that have come to bear on the CHRC recently (blogosphere chatter, media scrutiny, political scrutiny, letter writing campaigns, M-446, Privacy Commissioner and RCMP investigations, etc.) and the calls from many quarters that it be either dramatically scaled back or abolished altogether.

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