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Thursday, June 5

Faisal Joseph's hat trick: making the real reason for the Maclean's hearing disappear

Day Three of the British Human Rights Tribunal hearing saw Elmasry's attorney, Faisal Joseph, calling more experts on Islamic matters to dispute Mark Steyn's article for Maclean's.

All that is drifting from the spirit and intent of Section 13, which is meant to protect Canadians in 'protected' groups from being exposed to the likelihood of hatred and contempt.(1) And it's diverting attention from Elmasry's actual complaint.

So why hasn't Joseph simply called Elmasry into the proceedings to explain his complaint about Maclean's? Because Joseph has to keep distracting the tribunal's attention from the fact that the real complainants (four law students) abused the spirit and meaning of Canada's human rights code. To understand why this is so, first some review:

Maclean's didn't only publish Steyn's article; they also published, over the course of two issues, 27 letters in response to the article -- more published responses than for any other cover story in 2006. Many of the letters expressed criticism for Steyn's points.

However, the law students weren't interested in participating in the debate; they did not write Maclean's to protest Steyn's article or Maclean's decision to publish it.

Mohamed Elmasry's Canadian Islamic Congress was also uninterested in responding to Steyn's piece, even though the organization had a website, access to several news outlets, and could have called a press conference to protest.

But five months after Maclean's published the piece, the law students hit up Maclean's for money. For window dressing they tossed in complaints about Steyn's piece and made demands that they knew no independent publication could agree to. As the Maclean's Editor-in-Chief, Kenneth Whyte, explained:
They wanted a five-page article, written by an author of their choice, to run without any editing by us, except for spelling and grammar. They also wanted to place their response on the cover and to art direct it themselves.
Yet despite Maclean's refusal to agree to such unreasonable demands, they made an extraordinary concession for a major publication, which was to offer students space in the magazine to publish a letter, even at that late date.

The students turned down the offer. Why?

As their lawyer, Faisal Joseph, said at a December 4, 2007 press conference, the students wanted equal time and equal space in the magazine, "not a little letter to the editor." In the related press release put out by the Canadian Islamic Congress, Naseem Mithoowani, one of the law students, neglected to mention their snub to Maclean's and said:
Having exhausted every avenue, we chose to pursue our rights as Canadian citizens to bring this matter to the attention of the Canadian public.
The press conference was to announce that Section 13 complaints had been launched against Maclean's et al. Through this ploy the students crashed their way into Canada's news media, which they used as a platform for heaping lies on uninformed Canadians. In an article for the National Post titled All we want is a chance to respond, the law students wrote:
On March 30, 2007, we met with Maclean's senior editors and proposed that they publish a response from a mutually acceptable source. The response was negative, which resulted in our human rights complaints. [...]

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. [...]

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.
Over a period of a half year, three of the students repeated those assertions in numerous newspapers and other media platforms. Yet they had never agreed to a "mutually acceptable" source and they snubbed the Maclean's offer to give them a chance to respond to Steyn's piece.

Skipping over the students' lies, what does ensuring that media "provide a forum for open debate" have to do with the grounds for a Section 13 complaint? What does demanding media access have to do with a fear that Maclean's exposed Muslims to the likelihood of hatred and contempt by publishing Steyn's article?

And what does demanding money from Maclean's have to do with suppressing hate speech? Section 13, and all related provincial human rights codes, is meant to address hate speech -- and the remedies are directed at removing the hate speech from a public forum, not debating with it.

So the truth, which the students spelled out in numerous media platforms, is that they don't consider Mark Steyn's article to be hate speech, and they don't consider Maclean's to be exposing Muslims to the likelihood of hatred and contempt.

They consider the Steyn article something they want to rebut. Yet with all the many media outlets provided them after their press conference stunt, they never set out to refute Steyn's argument; they only complained about it.

And that is why Faisal Joseph spends his time before the BC tribunal trotting out Talking Heads and chattering about everything but the actual human rights complaint against Maclean's. In light of the explanations that the students have put before the public, to focus on the complaint would help the Maclean's attorneys expose that it was filed under false pretenses.

Day Four of the hearing is now underway; now we'll see if Julian Porter has managed to badger Faisal into producing an actual party to the complaint against Maclean's. Naiyer Habib, who serves as a director at the Canadian Islamic Congress, was added to the complaint after it was filed in order to comply with the law that a British Columbia complaint must be filed by a BC resident. Elmasry is not a BC resident.

Andrew Coyne is again live-blogging from the hearing.

For background on the Section 13 issue see my January 8 post Maclean's Magazine Affair reveals deep fissures in Canada's democracy and Kathy Shaidle's February 26 report for Front Page Magazine. (Ignore the FPM title for the report; several Canadian Muslims are outspoken defenders of freedom of speech.)

1) To be strictly accurate, under the British Columbia human rights code it's a Section 7 complaint. But Section 7 is virtually the same as Section 13 of the federal Canadian human rights code. It's become convention for those writing about the issue to refer to all codes relating to Section 13 simply as "Section 13."
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