B.C. Human Rights Commission rejects Muslim complaint over Maclean’s article
In a ruling released Friday, the commission found the article by Mark Steyn did not violate anti-hate laws or raise hatred against Muslims.
It’s the third time the complaint by members of the Canadian Islamic Congress has been dismissed by a human rights commission in Canada.
The October 2006 article, called “The Future Belongs to Islam,” discusses the global ambitions of young Muslims and suggests the West doesn’t have the will to withstand the challenge.
In the B.C. complaint, the Islamic Congress claimed the writing suggests Muslims pose a threat to Western society, to democracy and human rights – a violation of the B.C. Human Rights Code.
In a ruling released Friday, the provincial human rights panel dismissed the claim.
The article may have been “hurtful and distasteful” to some, the commission tribunal found.
But “read in its context, the article is essentially an expression of opinion on political issues which, in light of recent historical events involving extremist Muslims and the problems facing the vast majority of the Muslim community that does not support extremism, are legitimate subjects for public discussion,” it found.
“The article may attempt to rally public opinion by exaggeration and causing the reader to fear Muslims, but fear is not synonymous with hatred and contempt.”
In June, the Canadian Human Rights Commission rejected the same complaint against Maclean’s, saying the views expressed weren’t extreme, and a similar complaint filed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission failed when it ruled it didn’t have jurisdiction to hear it.
The B.C. tribunal did find that the article by Steyn “contains historical, religious and factual inaccuracies” and used common Muslim stereotypes.
And the responses it elicited online were often “disturbing to read,” said the decision.
But despite “all its inaccuracies and hyperbole,” the article resulted in political debate that hate laws were never intended to suppress, it said.
“In fact, as the evidence in this case amply demonstrates, the debate has not been suppressed and the concerns about the impact of hate speech silencing a minority have not been borne out,” the tribunal found.
Human Rights Commissions
Human rights commissions are quasi-judicial bodies that seek to promote and enforce human rights law in their jurisdictions and resolve disputes of discrimination based on certain prohibited grounds, such as race, gender or religion.
There is a federal commission in Ottawa, and provincial bodies, each with their own enabling legislation. Some commissions act as a gatekeeper for complaints, vetting them on behalf of a separate tribunal that decides them, often with the commission acting in the role of prosecutor. But some, such as Ontario and British Columbia, allow complaints to go directly to a tribunal.
If discrimination is proved, tribunals have the power to issue legally binding orders, and to impose relatively modest financial penalties. Their rulings can be appealed to fully fledged courts of law. Originally envisioned as a less severe remedy than civil court for discrimination complaints in housing or employment, human rights commissions also have a legislative mandate to hear complaints of hate messages.
Largely due to the hate speech cases against magazine and former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant, they have recently been criticized for taking an overly broad interpretation of that mandate, targetting mainstream journalism as well as hate propaganda and discriminatory advertising.
At the federal commission, an independent review of its Internet hate speech mandate is in the final stages.