Professor Richard Moon was the hero of today's House of Commons justice and human rights committee on the Canadian Human Rights Act's hate speech section 13. Even Ezra Levant had positive things to say about his testimony:
Richard Moon was a pleasant surprise. . . . he stayed focused on his central recommendation: to abolish section 13, and he unpacked that a bit for the MPs who bothered to ask him.
Ezra said if he'd stayed on this message he would have been a hero. Interesting he would use the same word as I did. He has criticisms too, which you will find if you follow the link above.
Moon, a very pleasant chap, made a clear and unqualified defense of his report's first and chief recommendation to repeal section 13. Though he was asked later to respond to questions about possible improvements to the legislation as it stands, he kept on returning to a good, solid, cheerful defence of freedom of speech.
Afterwards, I introduced myself to him and told him that many have treated his key recommendation as if it did not exist. They have only focused on his secondary recommendations should the censorship provision not be repealed. He agreed, but told me he thought repeal was unlikely. In this Parliament, he's right. Highly unlikely.
I see Ezra Levant
has been live-blogging the event, with many entries.
As for Canadian Human Rights Commission head Jennifer Lynch, Q.C. she literally made my jaw drop.
Though she had her back to my while she was testifying, I could see her face from the side and her Cheshire Cat grin was wide enough for me to see her upturned lip. She came across as the smiling school marm, patiently explaining to everyone about how equality and freedom of speech need to be balanced. Was word "balanced" part of Jay Currie's drinking game?
Oh, I see it isn't. If it had been included, those who sipped every time she used "balancing rights" or some variation would have soon been staggeringly drunk.
I got the sense she was perhaps trying to brazen this whole thing out by "demonizing and dehumanizing" her critics, aka. Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant as lying and hurtful. She did not concede one ioata that any
examples of abuses by HRC employees. They live up to the highest ethical standards, she said.
Does she assume (possibly accurately, I'm afraid) that no MP has the time to investigate the transcripts where her employees or a former employee admit under oath that they posted antisemitic and anti gay remarks on the Internet?
Does Lynch assume that no one will be well-prepared enough to seriously challenge her? Alas, she may be right. But I am sure that as soon as the transcript comes out an army of bloggers will fisk every word. Eventually, the work they do may matter. We'll see.
Richard Warman was there. It was interesting to see him in person. He asked me to identify myself because I was taking pictures and took some of him. I showed him my press gallery pass. I don't recall his name being mentioned so no, he was not sent "under the bus" as some bloggers speculated. Warman strikes me as quite young, young enough to be Jennifer Lynch's son.
And I don't recall seeing any interaction between him and Jennifer Lynch either during the breaks. He sat by himself, as far as I could tell. I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to him.
Jennifer Lynch puts on her smile when she is talking, but as she sat listening to the testimony after her turn before the committee was over, she came across as quite anxious, twisting her bracelet, her brow furrowed. And she seemed to have a nice tan!
The discussion was civil and made me think of what Kathy Shaidle has written about venue. I can't seem to find it, but in her post she explains that just as a comedian would get punched out if he said certain things on the floor of a club that he gets away with on the stage, a blog post is a wilder and woolier venue for free speech than your usual cocktail party discussion or committee meeting.
Polemics do not work as well in a House of Commons committee venue. Why? Because there are certain agreed upon norms of courtesy and civility that allow people who have diametrically opposed views to debate issues. This by its very nature rather dampers things down to almost snore-fest levels. Rarely is anyone as entertaining as Mark and Ezra were Oct. 5. Polemics, alas, are distrusted because it is often assumed that where there is spin there are no facts or what facts there are have been spun out of recognition. And there is a constant subtle policing for remarks that go over-the-top in a partisan way so there are opportunities for fake outrage and censure on the Hill, but I digress.
It's too bad that Ezra and Mark's style and conservative viewpoints make it easy for people to assume the smiling, patient bureaucrat with the bafflegab is telling the truth and to dismiss their more colorful voices. Most of us who've been on this beat, however, have followed the links and see the verbal pyrotechnics are backed up by facts. As Ezra said when he testified, he found it hard to believe what he was then telling them until he actually pored over the transcripts and discovered they were. Sometimes even sticking to the facts can make you sound shrill or exaggerated. Sad but true.Jay Currie
, who was also live-blogging with several posts, has some interesting analysis of some disturbing points in defence of Section 13 by the Mark Freiman of the Canadian Jewish Congress:
I was struck by this trope, badly enunciated by Lynch, but burnished by Freiman “Intention is a dangerous precondition: if we are not focused on the wrong doer. If we are looking at the speech itself then intention is not as important.”
This is very clever indeed. Because it seeks to divorce the speech act, the expression, from the speaker so that, miraculously, the right of the speaker to due process as his Charter Rights are being taken away, is no longer engaged.
On this logic, Warman v. Lemire is not at all about Lemire: it is about what Lemire put on his website and so it is just fine to largely ignore the procedural protections one would think warranted if Lemire the person was actually being prosecuted. This is a truly brilliant bit of abstraction (way over Lynch’s head) and, with the greatest respect to Mr. Freiman, is a distinction without a difference.
Simply put, every expression has an author. It is impossible to speak of a “hate message” divorced from the utterer of that message because, without the utterer of the message there would be no message. Just as without a murderer there would be no murder. But it was an elegantly palmed card.
This is disturbing because it is the idea underlying why truth and intention are not a defence under Section 13. Moon pointed out that in practice intention has been considered in the CHRT cases he's read.
To be fair to the folks from the Canadian Jewish Congress, they are concerned about procedural abuses and the fact that even frivolous cases get investigated, leaving respondents to complaints often holding a huge legal bill. They would like to see frivolous cases dismissed right off the top and respondents whose complaints have proved groundless receive compensation. But they like the elasticity of Section 13 and that scares the hell out of me.
Jay Currie had some more observations that I share:
It was, frankly, embarrassing to see how ill prepared all of the MPs on the Committee actually were. Mr. Comartin had a clue but the rest of the members were underbriefed in the extreme.
The whole Committee set up with its ridiculously limited time was shocking. However, more shocking, the Members of the Committee knew how limited their time was. I did not see a single one of them use the time they had effectively. Now, with Moon, Farber and Freiman this was not a huge problem – frankly Freiman could have guided them along and they never would have known it – but the sheer inability of the Committee members to master their briefs meant Lynch was able to run down the clock without really dealing with any of the administrative and procedural irregularities which have characterized the hate section.
When Lynch stated “Unsubstantiated personal attacks at Stacey and Kozack…I am proud of my staff.” One of the members should have been ready with chapter, verse and transcript citation. As it was, Lynch’s tactic of denial and delay meant the Committee is no closer to discovering what corruption lies at the heart of the hate speech section.
Why, I wonder, did the conservatives get so few questions. There were a few times when Jennifer Lynch's smile looked like it might melt off when the Tories got a little tougher with her.
I think it was MP Russ Hiebert who said, "The punishment is the process." Good for him.
BTW, I agree with Ezra that NDP Comartin Joe Comartin did a good job. He put Jennifer Lynch on the spot. Ezra writes:
Joe Comartin was up next. He put a crystal clear question to Lynch: had she done an investigation or analysis into my accusations against Dean Steacy or Richard Warman?
Lynch's reply: she went back to re-reading her opening statement. How embarrassing.
After eating up a couple of minutes of Comartin's time, Lynch finally just called my and Steyn's accusations "misinformation". She claims that she had personally "looked into the matter", and reassured Comartin that he can have "pride" in their conduct. Comartin interrupted her evasion, and asked again: "did you conduct a detailed investigation into those allegations?" Lynch says she has -- and that there has been no "breach of any law or ethic". Really? I look forward to seeing the result of those detailed investigations. I haven't filed an access to information request in a while -- this one sounds ripe.
The smiling blonde with the eye make up and the tan is Jennifer Lynch. The CJC's Burnie Farber and Mark Freiman are shown sitting at the table. Warman is the young bald man with the glasses. And Richard Moon is in the last photo at the bottom.
There were a number of different philosophical and legal positions laid out in today's committee. That's the level it seems most MPs prefer to keep the debate. And there is lots to keep them busy in this vein. But I think something needs to be done to investigate possible procedural abuses, too.