Note to those who have been complaining that Quebec is not Canada: First of all, last time we looked that is where it was, and second of all, these kind of prosecutions have been occurring in other provinces as well. The trials of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant are also cited in the article. We love Canada but it seems to be having a problem that doesn't want to go away. Respectfully, the Editors.
Think back twenty years and imagine that someone then had told you that developed Western democracies would spend the first decades of the twenty-first century introducing new blasphemy laws. "You mean 'repealing' surely?" your wise younger self would probably have said. And if you had been persuaded that, no, new blasphemy laws really were going to be brought into effect in the not-too-distant future, doubtless your follow-on question would have been, "So how did the Spanish inquisition manage to make such a comeback?"
The latest country to attempt – yet again – to impose new blasphemy laws in the twenty-first century is Canada. I say "yet again" because some readers will remember the disputes during the last decade when the journalists Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant and others were hauled before the farcical "Human Rights Commissions" of Canada and asked to explain why they had ever said anything that the state commissars did not agree with. Those Commissions soon became a focus of everybody around the world who cares about free speech. The site of a dreary bureaucrat asking journalists to explain why they had felt impelled to write something truly began to look like tragedy repeated not as farce but as mind-numbing proceduralism.
But now the worst Canadian idea of modern times appears to be back. The Quebec National Assembly is currently considering a bill that would criminalize any criticism of Islam and redesignate it as "hate speech." Bill 59 - as this latest totalitarian procedure is titled - is being proposed by the Minister of Justice, Stephanie Vallee; and the head of the Quebec Human Rights Commission, Jacques Fremont, has already been quoted saying that he looks forward to using the new powers to target "people who would write against... the Islamic religion... on a website or on a Facebook page."
It is possible that the whole thing is simply a money-making exercise – a more refined version of the old trick of putting up tiny speeding signs and then squeezing the cash out of every unwitting transgressor. After all, the QHRC will be able to apply for a court order "requiring [the culprit] to cease" his speech and will also be able to impose a fine of up to $10,000 for having "disseminated such speech." The Human Rights Tribunal will be able to decide on each occasion how much money it wants.
The law is so bad, the bureaucrats involved so dispiritingly awful, that it really is enough to make one move to Canada to help bring this awful law crashing down Even if you have never previously been to the country, any self-respecting free speech warrior will surely be feeling this same instinct. Certainly there will be unpleasant times ahead. The Tribunal is planning to keep a publicly available list of people found guilty of "hate speech" — like a sex-offender database. Presumably this means that members of the public can check that they are not living in the proximity of anybody who is likely to express him-or-herself with words. So we might all have to be put either in some free speech ghetto where nice happy Canadians who don't like free expression don't have to hear us. Or perhaps we will have to fan out and be distributed across the country, so long as we stay far enough away from any places of learning, radio studios and the like. Best of all is that the members of the Commission do not have to wait for anybody to complain to them before they act. The Commission is allowed to head out and search for things that are offensive all by itself. One must wonder whether they may just – wholly unforeseeably – be a government department which continuously finds work to justify its existence?
The first test might be to see whether we are able to identify why Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed the Ottawa Parliament last year and shot a Canadian soldier on ceremonial duty at the nation's war memorial. It is hard to see how any reporting of this attack could not in some way be deemed offensive to some Muslim somewhere or to some portion of the Islamic faith, and so I am sure that Monsieur Fremont will agree that the safest thing to do is either not to report an attack on the Canadian Parliament or to ensure that all papers or individuals who mention such an attack are immediately fined $10,000 and put on the Hate-Speech-offenders list for doing so. Might it not in fact be more convenient for the Tribunals if they simply put all writers on a system of direct-debit and levy the fine on absolutely everyone after any terrorist attack?
But then we can start to ask all the questions we have all gotten so used to not being able to ask in recent years. Will Monsieur Fremont and Minister Vallee allow anybody to write about contemporary anti-Semitism or the most virulent forms of contemporary homophobia? Admittedly these are minority interests and would never come under the purview of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunals, but they may come up at some point on somebody's social media profile or the national press. In which case, will the relevant authorities ensure that no gay or Jewish person is allowed to identify this phenomenon? Or if someone does, will it be possible to ensure that he desists through a system of fines and list-shaming?
In the last decade, the Canadian system made itself look a fool to the world. We had hoped that the country had learned that for most of the civilized world blasphemy laws are meant to be a thing of the past. But after the latest events in Quebec we will no longer be fooled. The whole world will be able to see that in Canada blasphemy laws are a thing of the future.