Tell me what you really think, Ezra

There are few people in the world who aren’t afraid to be brutally honest. I mean, the kind of person who spills words like milk, letting the cascade flow down their clothing and all over the floor.

After a few irreversible spills, most of us get tired of cleaning up the mess. So we learn to self-censor.

Not so Ezra Levant. Self-censorship and the fear of reprisal is the topic of discussion in his book, “Shakedown: How our government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights” (McLelland and Stewart, Toronto, 2009). In this sobering read, Levant cites examples of HRC cases, their unfair methods and rulings, from various commissions all across Canada. He also details his own hearings with the Alberta Human Rights Commission regarding his publication of infamous Dutch cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in Levant’s now-defunct publication, The Western Standard.

Levant says that “Human rights commissions were a beautiful idea—that failed.”

Sure, we all want to live free of discrimination, but Levant says HRC’s are anti-democratic, because they try to enforce how people should feel, think and speak. What’s worse, Section 13 of the Act (referring to hate messages communicated via the telephone, computer networks, the Internet, and by extension, the media as well) turns HRC’s into, in his words, “the thought police.”

He says, “That’s the thing about Section 13. It’s focused 100 per cent on words, not on criminal deeds. Everyone charged under Section 13 is trying to spark a debate of one kind or another.”

The rulings he cites illustrate his opinion with brutal clarity. A Christian pastor in Alberta, for example, was raked over the coals regarding a letter to the editor in the Red Deer Advocate criticizing homosexuality. He was finally ordered to recant this religious viewpoint and never to preach about it again. Maclean’s magazine was targeted for publishing an excerpt from columnist Mark Steyn’s book, “America Alone: The End of the World as we know it”; and Levant himself, for “insulting” a guest during a debate on a radio show about his decision to publish the Mohammed cartoons.

While reading this book, I related Levant’s thesis to the biggest responsibility in my life right now: parenting. I wish I could control not only my children’s words and behavior, but also their feelings. It’s impossible. I may be able to force an apology out of one of my kids for something they did to another (on pain of punishment) but I can’t make them mean it.

Many examples cited in the book remind me of childish arguments that belong on the school ground. We used to settle a conflict ourselves, sometimes with a good scrap after school, and then it was over. Today, we want the government to settle our conflicts for us, to scold and embarrass people publicly just like mom and dad did when big brother cut off our hair in the middle of the night. But the problem with the state telling us how to live and think and speak is…well, the state’s gonna tell us how to live and think and speak.

Is it my unalienable right as a Canadian to punish those who offend me? If so, where do we draw the line between meaningful offenses and foolishness? Can over-arching rights like freedom of expression or freedom of religion be protected when individual rights are emphasized to such an extreme?

To use a biblical analogy (you don’t mind, do you?) perhaps we have traded our birthright for a bowl of stew.

Levant made me wonder if there was ever a time when HRC’s served a need not already addressed by the criminal code. He said, “they’ve [HRC’s] gone from being an informal ‘people’s court’ for disadvantaged minorities who are truly at risk to being a parallel legal system run by left-wing social engineers.”

I think it’s important to resist the American tendency to label and reject people’s opinion based solely on their known politics. More and more, popular opinion and media seem to flow into left and right camps, and I fear such herding keeps society from studying all ideas objectively and without stereotype.  Citizens of every political stripe in every region should give this book some serious thought. If we are willing to let the bureaucrats dictate policy to us, we will get the country we deserve.

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