Posted by: transcendingchaos | May 31, 2008

Human rights week continues

Many thanks to Thomas and “mrs. terwilliger” for their comments on my previous post, It’s Human Rights Week! Keep ’em coming.

If I could weigh in again briefly, I would like to suggest that the issue has less to do with Mark Steyn (and Ezra Levant — who gave a riveting speech at the Institute on Tuesday — I’ll link to the podcast once it’s up on the FI website) and more to do with freedom of speech rights in general, and the human rights tribunal, as a state censer, in particular.

I’d like to bring up another recent example of freedom of speech rights being violated: York University in Toronto, Ontario, recently banned anti-abortion groups (see National Post article here; for a libertarian/more opinionated take on it, see the Western Standard article here).

Furthermore–as if that isn’t a bad enough kibosh on freedom of speech/association–the student union has, more or less, banned any discussion that might be anti-abortion.

I’m not making this up.

From the National Post article:

Gilary Massa, vice-president external of the York Federation of Students, said student clubs will be free to discuss abortion in student space, as long as they do it “within a pro-choice realm,” and that all clubs will be investigated to ensure compliance.


Massa dismisses claims that this is a violation of freedom of speech saying, “Is this an issue of free speech? No, this is an issue of women’s rights.”


Well, I’m a woman, and I’d like the right to say whatever the hell I want about whatever the hell I want!

When it comes to rights, there should no be no such thing as a woman… or a man… or any kind of person for that matter… just human rights. Period.
The crazy thing is that our so-called “rights” are supposed to ensure our equality.
So why is it that they seem to be the very thing that reinforces hierarchies, silencing and marginalizing those whom the “majority” (i.e., the squeaky wheel) disagrees with?


Back to Mark Steyn… who is being tried this Monday, June 2, in Vancouver at the courthouse on Robson Street.
For those who are interested, there will be a protest in favour of his rights (and everyone else’s right to speak freely) at 8:00 am, outside the courthouse.



  1. When I mentioned below that it was difficult to explain why Steyn’s column wasn’t hate speech I was not so much concerned with the content of his article as with the trickiness of getting to just what “hate speech” is. Unlike mrs. terwilliger I do think there is a place for designating something as hate speech and at some point it is worth saying that something is poisonous enough it should not be permitted (taking care to recognize context – I would argue that the margin for what can be said/shouted/argued is much wider in a place like Canada than say, the former Yugoslavia). I say this because history proves contrary to John Stuart Mill that human beings are not nearly as rational as he thought (or hoped them) to be, and while mrs. terwilliger suggests that “no one is too weak to resist wrong action” I think the truth may be that only the very few are strong enough to pursue right action.

    However, the problem is you get things like this ban on anti-abortion groups (on a side note: is this really seen as a triumph of women’s rights?). This is where I do see the value of these various sorts of human rights tribunals and that sort of thing. I mean they do demonstrate a societal concern for guarding against the abuse of minorities, which I do think is valuable.
    To continue with the debate image I started below, I do think it is important to have a moderator. I would characterize the decision by the York Federation of Students (given VP Massa’s comments concerning women’s rights vs. freedom of speech) as an example of someone engaged in the debate trying to take the moderator’s role and simply silencing the other side. It is in situations like this where I might like the opportunity to seek outside moderation to provide some outside judgment …from a human rights tribunal for example? Wouldn’t it seem like these sorts of cases where funding and services are being denied on the basis of an ethical position (and in the York case on the basis of some extremely sketchy political power manouvers) be the kind of cases where we would hope someone might step in and make things right (where what we’re dealing with is not a debate – as in Steyn’s case – but an attempt to end all debate)? In the case of a university like this you wouldn’t need to go to a human rights tribunal – one would hope that some sort of faculty or university oversight could step in (dissapointingly silent in both the articles – although maybe there were a wealth of administrators and professors clamoring to give comments and the Post simply didn’t have room…) and set things right.

    Now, before I stick my foot too far in mouth I do want to say I’m very leery of the value of human rights commissions and the like as they are presently constituted as arms of government bureacracy (especially since they tend to take a mantle of activism on themselves with little to no self reflection on whatever interpretive bias they themselves as moderators tend to bring to the table). While I caution against over confidence in our ability to “choose/do the right thing” in an environment of patently false and poisonous speech I do not think extending bureacracy is a particularly effective way in dealing with it.

    Mark Steyn would probably argue that institutions like human rights commissions are another example of government’s rendering its citizens as irresponsible children, unable to carry on debate and make judgments for themselves. And, it is undeniable that there is some truth in that. However, I don’t think that it needs to be an either/or situation where we are either children led by the nursemaid of the government or rugged rationalists who are able to discern the truth and falsehood in a public speech untainted by any outside moderation.

    All that said I am very interested to see what happens with Mark Steyn tonight.

  2. I’m not sure where that winking smiley face came from in my last comment…while I was going for some sarcasm there I was trying to keep it a little more understated and really was just hoping to close off my parenthetical jab….

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