British Columbia rights panel dismisses Muslim complaint against Maclean's

[JURIST] The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal [official website] has dismissed [decision, PDF] a complaint alleging that the Canadian newsmagazine Maclean's [media website] incited hatred toward Muslims. The commission ruled Friday that a 2006 article [text] by conservative writer Mark Steyn [personal website] entitled "The future belongs to Islam" did not violate a provision [text] of the British Columbia Human Rights Code that prohibits publication of material "likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt." While noting that the complaint brought by members of the Canadian Islamic Congress [advocacy website] "raises issues of importance to all Canadians," the commission found that the article's content did not "rise[] to the level of hatred and contempt." In its decision, a commission panel wrote:

[W]e have determined that, considered in its context, and on the evidence before us, the complainants have not met their burden of demonstrating that the Article rises to the level of detestation, calumny and vilification necessary to breach s. 7(1)(b) of the Code....

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.

We accept that it may be possible to link feelings of fear with hatred and contempt but in the absence of any expert evidence which makes that link in the context of the Article, we cannot find that it was done so in this case.

The Article, with all its inaccuracies and hyperbole, has resulted in political debate which, in our view, s. 7(1)(b) was never intended to suppress. 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.
Reacting to the decision in a blog entry [text], Steyn called the Human Rights Code "ludicrous" and suggested that the commission would have sided against "an obscure Alberta pastor or a guy with a widely unread website," rather than a prominent media organization. Reuters has more. The National Post has additional coverage. From Vancouver, the Province has local coverage.

In June, the Canadian Human Rights Commission dismissed a similar complaint [JURIST report] against Maclean's, finding that Steyn's article did not constitute a discriminatory practice under the Canadian Human Rights Act [text]. Earlier, a group of Ontario law students filed a complaint against Maclean's with the Ontario Human Rights Commission [official website], which decided it could not refer the allegations to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario because it lacked the jurisdiction to do so under the Ontario Human Rights Code [text]. The allegations against Maclean's sparked fierce debate in Canada over the intersection of freedom of the press and the protection of human rights and have drawn sharp criticism from journalists' groups.


 

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