Freedom of Speech in Canada

Reports say Canadian journalist Mark Steyn has been denounced to a human rights commission for opinions expressed in Maclean’s in 2006. National Review editorial; John Robson op-ed in The Ottawa Citizen.

Here’s an explanation, though, from the Muslims who complained: “All we want is a chance to respond” to Steyn’s article which they found to be inflammatory and insulting to Muslims.

“On March 30, 2007, we met with Maclean’s senior editors and proposed that they publish a response from a mutually acceptable source.”

It would seem to be standard practice among most newspapers and magazines that provision would be made for a response. And notice, they didn’t even demand that their article be published–they proposed one “from a mutually acceptable source.” But they say that Maclean’s, the Canadian equivalent of Newsweek or Time, refused.

And note this:

In his National Post article, Mr. Levant devotes much attention to the importance of freedom of expression in Canadian society. We agree, which is why we asked Maclean’s for an opportunity to debate Mr. Steyn. It is also why Mr. Steyn is not a party to any of our human rights complaints. We haven’t asked him for an apology or a retraction. Neither have we filed hate-speech complaints against him. He is free to do and say as he pleases.

What we did ask for, however, was an opportunity for the Muslim community to participate in the “free marketplace” of ideas. It is our belief that in its truest form, freedom of expression results in a lively debate among all interested parties — not just among those who play by their own exclusionary rules. If Maclean’s wants to publish articles alleging that many Muslims are “hot for jihad,” it has to provide an opportunity to respond.

This issue isn’t about attacking journalists or stifling free expression. It’s about ensuring that our media outlets provide a forum for open debate and argument.

Does a publication have an obligation to publish rebuttals? I would think freedom of the press would suggest not. At the same time, I think newspapers and magazines which claim to be about dialogue and discussion of issues should honestly and fairly provide for that. That seems only good journalism. Maclean’s should have done the decent thing and arranged for the simple discussion the Muslims requested. That they feel these Human Rights Commissions (which have a chilling history, recounted in some of those links) is the only way to go, is unfortunate. Better to have shamed Maclean’s by going to their competitors–which, in essence, is what they’ve now done. National Post has published their response to Ezra Levant’s opinion piece. If National Post can do it, why can’t Maclean’s?