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Emotions run high over Maclean's article

2008-06-07 10:56:50

Our Comments

This was a very well done article and we're glad this was probably the most balanced reporting of comments, facts and opinions of people from both sides.

This is what journalism is about and clearly The Toronto Star wanted to get the real story behind this issue and they were even quoting defense and complainant arguments made during the day which few journalists have had the courage to do.

Full Article:

Emotions run high over Maclean's article
B.C. hearing told story promotes hatred of Islam. Others see this as an issue of free speech
June 07, 2008

Western Canada Bureau Chief

VANCOUVER–A high-profile B.C. Human Rights Tribunal heard yesterday that an article published in Maclean's magazine drew responses from readers that called for the mass killing, deportation and forced conversion of Muslims.

Faisal Joseph, the lawyer representing the Canadian Islamic Congress, said there is a conspicuous link between the 2006 article published in Maclean's and real evidence of hate.

"There has never been a case in this country where there has been such clear, concise evidence of hatred," said Joseph in his closing summation yesterday to the three-member tribunal hearing the case.

The tribunal looking into the article, "The Future of Islam," published by Maclean's in 2006, yesterday concluded a week of testimony that drew larger than normal crowds for a human rights hearing. The article is an excerpt of a book, America Alone, by Mark Steyn.

The hearing has become polarized between those who see a freedom of speech issue and those who see hatred against a religious community.The tribunal was called after two members of the Canadian Islamic Congress – president Mohamed Elmasry and Dr. Naiyer Habib – complained, saying the article promotes hatred against Islam and incites fears Muslims are taking over the world by criminalizing the religion and its followers.

Dr. Habib, a B.C. cardiologist, testified that a handful of Muslims hold extremist views. He said he was ashamed to see Islam demonized in that way.

But Steyn has countered there is no hate in his article, just the use of incontrovertible statistics about the growing number of Muslims, compared to declining births among women in the European Union, Canada, Japan and Russia.

At the start of the week, Steyn supporters waved blank signs to signal their belief the hearing would lead to a loss of free speech.

"This trial shames this province," Steyn said outside the hearing yesterday. "No genuinely free society should be this comfortable with state regulation of opinion."

Steyn and Maclean's have dared the tribunal to rule against them.

Steyn said yesterday that if his side loses, "we can take it to a real court and if necessary up to the Supreme Court of Canada" to win the "liberties of free-born Canadian citizens that have been taken away from them by tribunals like this."

During the week, while Steyn supporters continued appearing in the public gallery, a growing number of Muslim Canadians also began attending to show their concerns about what they consider is a growing hatred for their religion.

Surrey resident Lazina Yasir said she thought it was important to hear what was being said. She began weeping quietly in the public gallery when the lawyer for the CIC read some of the blog responses to the article, such as one writer calling for the use of DDT to eradicate Muslims, while others suggested throwing the Qur'an in the mud and "pissing on Muslims."

"I don't know why it affected me. If I heard those things about other religions, I believe I would have reacted the same way," said Yasir yesterday. "I have Jewish friends, Christian friends and my hope is that if I heard that kind of hatred against those religions, I would be affected the same way."

Yasir, who never wears a hijab, wore one to the tribunal this week, to show she is a Muslim and was surprised at the angry reaction some people had. Yasir's husband, Areeb, said he doesn't see the issue as one strictly about free speech. "There's never been any question in our mind that we need to have both free speech and a free media," he said. "But even here at this hearing, we are encountering people who don't want to acknowledge that some people may not see things the way they see it, when it comes to religion."

Roger McConchie, the lawyer representing Maclean's, said even the complainants' own experts were unaware of the article in the magazine.

Steyn's article, called "interesting'' and "entertaining" at the tribunal, did not "make a ripple in the sea of information about Islam and Muslims," McConchie said.

Elmasry, the primary complainant, who lives in Ontario, did not appear to testify at the tribuna, which leads to the inference that the article did not engage his interest, according to the magazine's lawyer.

If the tribunal was to rule in the complainant's favour, McConchie said that would lead to censorship.

"It represents an insidious encroachment upon personal liberty," McConchie said. "A hard shove down the slippery slope to be sure."

University of B.C. journalism professor Stephen Ward said in an interview that as Canada becomes more pluralistic, there will be more challenges alleging some publications are discriminatory.

"We have to find a way to avoid these legalistic attempts to try and keep the media accountable in some way," said Ward. "The wrong answer is to go to a human rights commission. It threatens to put a chill on journalism."

In April, the Ontario Human Rights Commission said it could not hear the CIC's complaint because Ontario's code doesn't cover magazines. The B.C. Human Rights Code does cover publications.

"I'm not happy to be here," said Toronto lawyer Julian Porter, who is representing Maclean's. "We're not entitled under the law the way it's structured to plead truth, fair comment, qualified privilege or intent or standards of journalism."

Porter said that in the Supreme Court of Canada, truth or fair comment is a defence, but that test doesn't apply with the human rights tribunal.

Human rights commissions and tribunals were set up decades ago to deal with discrimination over access of services in housing or employment.

At the start, opponents of such tribunals were what criminologist John Miller called "wing nuts, the white supremacists or fundamental Christians."

No one had much sympathy for them when they complained about the tribunals. Now that Maclean's is targeted, the debate has flowed into larger, broader issues of constitutional rights of freedom of expression, Miller said.

The tribunal could order the magazine to pay a fine if it finds in favour of the complainants.


http://www.thestar.com/News/Canada/article/439111


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