I have seen the future, and it is (shudder) Canadian.
It’s a bit fashionable to poke gentle fun at our national Northern suburb, especially for those of us on the right, who are used to viewing Canada is a warning of where we’ll be if we go a little farther to the left. I’m not sure how much that’s true these days; I would trade Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Barack Obama in a heartbeat. But it’s true in one particular respect.
The Canadians don’t have our Constitution. They share a common British legal heritage, but they enjoy less in the way of explicit protections for liberty—or rather, such provisions are much more recent and don’t enjoy the same tradition of robust interpretation. So Canada is a cautionary tale for what would happen here if the First Amendment is further eroded.
Specifically, Canada has pioneered the left’s idea of having race and gender “sensitivity” be enforced by law, a job they have given over to the kangaroo courts of local “human rights commissions.” For example, Canadian lawyer, columnist, and publisher Ezra Levant was hauled before the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission after Islamic groups filed a complaint against his publication of the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in the Western Standard. The complaint was eventually dropped after Levant placed it under harsh public scrutiny, including videotaping his questioning by the commission and posting it online.
Then again, he was forced to devote time and money to fighting off a form of legal harassment. Sometimes the prosecution is the punishment.
Now Levant is being targeted again by the Law Society of Alberta, in response to a complaint from lawyer Arman Chak, a former member of the Alberta commission. Chak’s complaint is that Levant’s description of the commission as “crazy town” in a newspaper column is “unbecoming” of a lawyer, for which he should be fined or lose his license. Specifically, Levant wrote, “But with human rights commissions, when you think you’ve hit rock bottom, you haven’t. The crazy keeps going down. You gotta get out your shovel and dig to get to the crazy that’s underneath the crazy.” Which sounds just about right.
The Canadian blog Small Dead Animals, but the way, provides the perfect response to the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s apparent sensitivity to criticism.
Maybe Levant will be cleared in this inquiry, and even if he is fined, he does not currently work as a lawyer, so the professional damage to him will be limited. But the message has been sent pretty clearly: no one in Canada with any background or expertise as a lawyer is welcome to criticize its human rights commissions.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, graphic designer Gregory Elliot is on trial for “criminal harassment” via Twitter. We should stop right there and observe that there is probably no way to actually criminally harass anyone on Twitter, especially since the service includes a handy “block” function that makes it easy to ignore your critics.
In fact, according to an excellent National Post report from Christie Blatchford, “it’s not alleged he ever threatened either woman (or any other, according to the testimony of the Toronto Police officer, Detective Jeff Bangild, who was in charge).” But it turns out the case is about harassment, after all.
He and [accuser Steph] Guthrie…initially fell out over his refusal to endorse her plan to “sic the Internet” upon a young man in Northern Ontario who had invented a violent video game, where users could punch an image of a feminist video blogger named Anita Sarkeesian until the screen turned red.
Guthrie Tweeted at the time that she wanted the inventor’s “hatred on the Internet to impact his real-life experience” and Tweeted to prospective employers to warn them off the young man and even sent the local newspaper in his town a link to the story about the game.
Elliott disagreed with the tactic and Tweeted he thought the shaming “was every bit as vicious as the face-punch game.”
So it started with Elliot’s refusal to endorse a campaign of harassment—and then he became the object of such a campaign himself.
Guthrie and Reilly didn’t behave as though they were remotely frightened or intimidated: they convened a meeting of friends to discuss how Elliott should be publicly shamed; they bombarded their followers with furious tweets and retweets about him (including a grotesque suggestion from someone pretending she was a 13-year-old that he was a pedophile); they could and did dish it out.
Then, of course, they dragged him into court. So anti-harassment laws are being used as a tool of harassment. Who could have predicted that?
There’s a good chance this case won’t succeed, but once again, the prosecution is the punishment. Blatchford reports that after his initial arrest, Elliot was fired from job.
We should thank heaven we live in the good old US of A, where everyone has a God-given right to be a jerk on Twitter. But we shouldn’t be complacent. Bear in mind the ominous example of Wisconsin’s John Doe prosecutions—a campaign finance witch hunt by rogue prosecutors against Republican political groups who were prohibited by gag orders from defending themselves or even explaining to their neighbors why their houses had been raided by armed officers in the middle of the night.
The John Doe cases were recently shot down rather firmly by Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, which declared that “the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law” and that he “employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing.” Then again, the court was calling on America’s relatively strong interpretation of freedom of speech: “The special prosecutor has disregarded the vital principle that in our nation and our state political speech is a fundamental right and is afforded the highest level of protection.”
On the one hand, this is reassuring, particularly since the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision provides a convincing brief for the civil rights suit that will likely proceed against the rogue prosecutors. But the Canadian cases indicate how fragile freedom of speech is, the determination of today’s left to stamp out the speech of its enemies, and the Orwellian constructs they have created to crush free speech in the name of “human rights.”
This doesn’t need to be the future, but it will be if we don’t fight back.