Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Conservatives, take note

I spent a lot of time composing a comment on a post at Red Tory.

Some rabid yahoo named Wally Keeler made a lot of unproductive (to say the least) comments to RT's post. This ticked me off. But as the post had to do with issues of free speech, I sounded off in the comments myself.

Here is the text of my comment:

(Commenter Kali:) “I didn’t sense that you were defending the BCHRC. Unlike some others, you were just looking at the other side instead of blindly calling “free speech, free speech, free speech!” It’s nice to see a little balance of views on this subject. I have been on the other side of Guy’s anger-I know why those girls were incensed enough to file a complaint about him, justified or not.”

(Me:) I agree. Wally misread RT’s observations from the beginning.

But I take issue with “justified or not.” Whether Earle’s actions justified retribution should be for a court of law to determine, not a quasi-judiciary like the human rights tribunals. While I believe the tribunals work, more or less, to assist people fighting discrimination in housing or employment who otherwise couldn’t afford expensive legal recourse, I also believe they have no business regulating free speech. Defamation, libel and slander are highly subjective issues, and must be subject to strict and rigorous legal examination. This involves rules of evidence, discovery and the right to call witnesses and cross-examine.

As I understand it, in the Canadian human rights tribunals, the only standard of proof is that something is likely to cause a climate of hatred. To me, this is bogus. Any number of things people say on a daily basis would fit under this umbrella. The burden of proof should be something did cause it — and should include here’s the evidence to show why, and here’s where legal precedent says so.

In Guy Earle’s case, had the proprietor of the club forbidden entry to the women in question because they were lesbians, that would have better fit a discrimination model; but as it was, it’s my opinion that these women, angry though they may have been, resorted to the wrong venue for redress. It was a comedy club contretemps got out of hand, in my opinion, and should have been treated as such. Instead, it stands to put a chilling effect on what comics dare to say about whom, which is a scary state of affairs. Having said that, it still remains for the facts — such as a lack of rules of evidence permits to emerge — to ascertain whether these women’s claims are justified, or not.

(Apologies for length, here, RT, but I guess you can tell I feel pretty strongly about this issue.)

Disclosure: I happen to think what Guy Earle said was sleazy. I’d never heard of him before, and I hope not to again, after this case is settled. But I do support him, albeit backhandedly, in this case, as I do Ezra Levant, Stephen Boissoin, Mark Steyn, Marc Lemire, Harry’s Place blog and any others, left, right, extremist or mild-mannered, against the attempt to restrict their speech in the name of “likelihood” to cause a climate of hate. I say prove it, under proper legal standard.

I agree that reaction to cases like these among conservatives often borders on hysteria. But the reason is — and I’m only speaking for myself — that even the hint of an encroachment on free speech is worth being alert to. Restrictions on other kinds of social behavior — violence, theft, and, yes, defamation — are rightly imposed. That is because they involve overt, provable acts. (In a court of law.) But speech, in itself, is simply that. The standards by which we prove speech has actually incited hatred should be high. Was Mark Steyn dramatizing his own paranoia in his book and the article in Maclean’s? Perhaps. Did mobs of people start attacking Muslims because of what he wrote? No.

If he’s wrong, the public debate allows a more convincing rebuttal to be put forward. (Frankly, I’d love to see it. Tarring all Muslims with the same brush simply begs for some good, biting polemic.) The point is, let the speech be heard, and then judged — by the public — on its merits. If it’s defamatory, go to (real) court. Otherwise, let it out there.

Once you put a chilling effect on speech, it’s my belief it can never be reclaimed. And that’s what’s so scary. Scary enough to account for the hysteria. To many conservatives, it’s better to err on the side of paranoia than to wake up one day to discover you can’t say anything offensive about anyone without having to cough up a lot of cash and wear a scarlet letter — and not having been able to properly defend yourself.

And now, a word to our friend Wally.

You really need to put your patella back in line with your femur and tibia. Anger is no excuse to let your emotions run away with you. It’s people like you that (rightly) earn many conservatives a lot of scorn.

Let me tell you a little story. Not too long ago, regular commenter KEvron and I engaged in discussion on my blog about a couple of points of fact. I had commented here on an issue that I had not bothered to properly research, and he called me on it. Over the course of many days, he managed to make me see where my thinking was astray — and I’ll never forget it. Sure, he was blunt about it — as he should have been. [And since.] That doesn’t mean I can have a free pass to tar him as a [fill in your favorite expletive] liberal, nor does it mean I can throw angry ad hominems back at him with a clean conscience. The fact is, he was right. And so is RT.

Far from wishing to protect my own worldview, reflexive and easy though it may seem, I chose to learn, and I did. (The lesson is still being learned, but at least I’m on the road.)

So stop — and THINK. You’ll only make yourself look like an idiot, otherwise. And I, for one, don’t want to be associated with that.

(Anyone interested can read KEvron’s and my exchange here — http://tinyurl.com/55h735. It was a wakeup call that has changed my thinking.)

Whew … sorry again about the length, RT.


Two things: I'd like to know how other conservatives think about what I said; and, what other conservatives think about people like Wally (on BOTH sides of the political fence).

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