The ABCs of fighting for free speech

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is an administrative body responsible for enforcing Section 13 of the Human Rights Act. This section prohibits phone or internet messages that are likely to expose a person or person to hatred or contempt on the ground of race, sex, religion, etc. In recent years the CHRC and Section 13 have come under attack by activists and bloggers who allege that the CHRC and Section 13 are a danger to freedom of speech and expression.

It was a motley party from the beginning. A confusing mess of die-hard social conservatives and liberals (not to mention libertarians), Jews and Muslims, gay rights activists and priests and pastors who had dedicated their lives to opposing gay rights activists. They were attacking the inaptly named Canadian Human Rights Commissions and most specifically hate speech laws.

The weapon of choice was mostly blogs. You know, those online diaries where people pontificate around like their opinions are the most important things in the world and usually have a readership of -- well -- not a lot. This collection of rag-tag fire-breathing radicals was attacking a decades-old law and a nicely established government department. A government department, moreover, that monopolized most of the feel-good words -- human rights, anti-hate, reconciliation, arbitration, anti-discrimination -- and had a whole host of feel-bad words to toss at their opponents -- hate-mongerers (sic), bigots, racists, regressive, anti-human rights, right-wing extremists, unfeeling, marginal, obnoxious...

No bookie would have given this collection, held together with as much duct tape and Tim Horton’s coffee as anything else, better than very long odds on getting the Human Rights Commissions to acknowledge their existence, much less anything more. It looked like another tedious social conservative-type stand-off where a few “radicals” stormed around talking a lot and achieving nothing while the status quo slipped blithely along without registering more than an occasional little ripple.

But this time it was different. This time they got publicity. This time they got the attention of their opponents and had them squealing. This time they gained momentum. This time, although it is far to early to be sure, victory is starting to look rather likely, if not very likely. This time they aren’t withering in obscurity, they are not on the defensive, they are on the offensive and the enemy is retreating and deserting rapidly.

How could this happen and what can we learn from it?

The Power of the Active Individual:“The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual - for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.” M. Scott Peck

Okay so this is very clichéd but do I get extra points if it's true? Every cause needs a hero to rally around or, failing that, a martyr. The free speech movement got a major boost when the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal made the worst mistake in their history. They accepted a complaint against magazine editor Ezra Levant for reprinting the Danish Mohammed cartoons as part of a news story about the cartoon riots. Levant won his case, or rather got it dismissed (which, as he explains, is not really a win), but the experience opened his eyes to the direction that the HRCs were taking. Once he started talking the government quickly realized that he was impossible to shut up. Since then he and others have been incredibly influential in bringing the abuses of the Commissions and the totalitarian nature of hate speech laws to the attention of the public.

The Power of a Dedicated Minority: "History has never been dominated by majorities, but only by dedicated minorities who stand unconditionally on their faith." R.J. Rushdoony

Without dedicated friends and supporters even the greatest people can accomplish little. Few people have the time, money, energy, eloquence, or just pig-headed stubbornness to lead an activist movement. Most people have the time, money, energy, eloquence, and/or stubbornness to write to a politician, donate $20 to a favourite cause, write a letter to the editor, discuss these issues with their friends, vote for leaders who support their point of view, pray, or just refuse to bow to the self-proclaimed arbiters of political correctness in their own lives. This minority, a minority that is active and concerned, can do great things.

The Power of the Media and/or Alternative Media:“They have an engine called the Press whereby the people are deceived. We should die without ever being heard of.” C.S.Lewis

You can have individuals making heroic stands but if no one ever hears about them it is useless. The free-speechers, or at least their message, won the friendship and support of the entire mainstream media, from conservative to liberal. While the blogs, Youtube, and other forms of alternative media had a pivotal role to play in the fight, the established media is still more widely respected and influential. Many conservatives seem to regard the press as a perpetual enemy. While this may be true for the most part, we are facing an uphill, and probably futile, battle as long as this problem is not adequately addressed. How can people form a dedicated minority if they are ignorant of the issues at hand?

The Power of Polemicism: “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” Georg Wilhelm

This idea I stole unapologetically from Mark Steyn. The vast majority of people do not want to be seen as extreme radicals. They want to be seen as left of centre or right of centre. Therefore, although the extremists and polemicists on both sides are not really effective in persuading the majority, they can be effective in moving the centre. Some may not be comfortable with the idea of a “Fire. Them. All.” (Levant) approach but because of it they are emboldened to advocate for reform. After all, they aren't like THOSE extremists.

The Power of Scratching Below the Surface:“Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.“ Franklin D. Roosevelt. “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Lenin.

The tension between these two quotations affects us all. A lie repeated often enough can produce a veneer of consensus and the appearance of truth, but it can never really become the truth.

In today’s society we have an ingrained set of politically correct responses to any issue. Hate speech laws: well,of course, we don’t want people spouting hateful speech all over the place. Human Rights Commissions: well, isn’t it good that we have an organization to look after human rights?

But if you scratch below the surface and start to explain to people what these things are really about, they can have an entirely different response. Hate speech laws, you are censoring who for saying what?! Human Rights Commissions, you mean I could get in trouble for doing that?!

The Power of a Greedy Enemy: “Another such victory over the Romans, and we are undone.” Pyrrhus

While this is not really something that we can control, it should give us room for hope in times of discouragement. The free speech movement took off because the Human Rights Commission went too far. They thought that they had carte blanche to define the word “hate-monger” and deal with all forms of “hate speech”. What they didn’t realize was that there was a Canada beyond the doors of their office building which might have different ideas. It was the atrocious cases where they tried to prosecute pastors and popular, mainline media that provoked the storms of outrage. No one really wants to publicly defend a neo-Nazi, but Macleans? Or your local priest? That is something that people can defend and feel good defending.

In Conclusion: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, then you win." Ghandi

It is not enough for conservatives to have good ideas. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The ideas that change the world are those which can reach the cabbie and the mechanic. The ideas and issues that get discussed over coffee at work. The ideas that inspire professors and lawyers to speak and write. The ideas that get airtime on every TV and radio network. The ideas that creep into our education system. The ideas that a dedicated minority push in every possible way until they become in the minds of your average Joe to be self-evident truth. If the liberals and social engineers can alter the heartbeat of a nation so that abortion, gay marriage, and censorship becomes the normal status quo, we can alter it back.

Remember: Politicians want to get elected. If they start to lose elections because of their stance on Human Rights Commissions do you think they won’t notice? I promise you, they will.

Rebekah Hebbert is a Canadian homeschool graduate who blogs at


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