Steyn Watches as Tribunal Winds Up

Comment
By Brian Hutchinson in Vancouver

National Post, June 7, 2008

In the dying minutes of his hour-long closing argument at a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing yesterday, lawyer Faisal Joseph turned to the facts.

“Let’s talk about the evidence of actual hate,” he said. And why not. Hatred and contempt were what the five-day quasi-judicial process was all about.

With its publication of a book excerpt written by journalist Mark Steyn, Maclean’s magazine is accused by two Muslim activists of smearing Islam. According to the complainants, the sharply worded excerpt — about the growing influence of Islam and its perceived challenge to the West — made them and “all Muslims in B.C.” the subjects of loathing and scorn.

The complainants were under no obligation to prove harm, or malicious intent; all that is required, under B.C.’s human rights legislation, is a reasonable determination that the excerpt did express hatred and contempt toward Muslims, and likely caused it to spread. That’s the test.

“There has never been a case in this country that has had such clear, concise evidence, ever,” Mr. Faisal said yesterday. “There will never be any more demonstrable evidence of hatred that has been perpetrated by this article.”

He spent little time parsing the excerpt itself. But Mr. Joseph slammed Maclean’s editors, who had refused to publish a rebuttal by offended Muslims, equal in length and in prominence to the original Steyn cover story.

Mr. Joseph referred to the magazine’s introduction to the Steyn piece: “The Muslim world has youth, numbers and global ambitions. The West is growing old and enfeebled, and more and more lacks the will to rebuff those who would supplant it. It’s the end of the world as we’ve known it.”

The Maclean’s message is pretty clear, said Mr. Joseph: Western society is doomed if measures aren’t taken to halt the spread of Islam.

He then railed against the magazine’s lawyers, in particular Toronto specialist Julian Porter, who on Thursday had enthusiastically cross-examined Naiyer Habib — the only complainant to show up for the hearing.

Mr. Porter’s animated performance and his references to the 9/11 terrorist attacks had upset his counterpart. “If [Mr. Porter] had his way, each and every Muslim in the country [would] also bear the additional albatross that apparently, we as Muslims in the country are responsible, personally, for Osama Bin Laden,” fumed Mr. Joseph. “How ridiculous… This is the type of mindset that prevails in the media.”

Dr. Habib, he noted, had made genuine efforts to reach out to other communities after 9/11. A cardiologist now living in B.C., Dr. Habib had tried to curtail what he saw as the spread of Islamophobia; the Steyn excerpt had deeply upset him, he had testified.

Then there was Mr. Steyn. He missed most of the hearing this week, but was in the gallery yesterday, occasionally shaking his head. He seemed not to be taking much pleasure from the spectacle, but this may not be the end of it; Mr. Steyn has said before that he hopes Maclean’s loses the human rights case, so that it may appeal any decision to a “real” court of law.

Mr. Joseph turned his sights on him.

There is a reference in his Maclean’s excerpt, and in his book, America Alone, to one Mullah Krekar, a radical imam living in Norway. Mr. Steyn repeats several lines from an interview the mullah gave to a Norwegian newspaper in 2006. “We’re the ones who will change you,” the cleric said. “Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslins is expanding like mosquitoes. Every Western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children… Our way of thinking will prove more powerful than yours.”

Rather than bolster his argument, the lines used by Mr. Steyn and uttered by a Muslim imam actually “legitimize and express contempt and hatred for an entire group,” reasoned Mr. Joseph.

He turned his sights on Canada’s “mainstream press.” Mr. Joseph complained that media covering the hearing had not published, verbatim, the vile and plainly anti-Muslim comments that he’d read into the tribunal record.

These comments, from anonymous Internet “idiots,” formed much of his evidence against Maclean’s. Mr. Joseph put them into the record again yesterday, saying they all referred back to the Steyn excerpt: this demonstrated that Maclean’s magazine had created a maelstrom of anti-Islam hate, he alleged.

Finally, to the nitty gritty: Redress. “The complainants seek, under… the B.C. Human Rights Act, an order directing [Maclean’s owner] Rogers Publishing Inc. to publish a counterview article to the article Why the Future Belongs to Islam, or, in the alternative, a summary of at least the tribunal’s judgments and findings and a declaration [that the excerpt] was hatred and contemptuous.”

Maclean’s lawyer, Roger McConchie presented his closing arguments. The real complainants, he suggested, were the three young Muslim advocates — a trio of Ontario law students — sitting with Mr. Joseph. They had been “forum shopping” and found the B.C. tribunal.

One of the only two official complainants, Ontario resident Mohamed Elmasry did not attend. That is noteworthy, Mr. McConchie said. “Maclean’s respectfully submits that the tribunal must draw the inference that [the excerpt] does not seriously engage his interest.” This, although he claimed to represent “Muslim residents in the province of British Columbia.”

One final and dramatic flourish, from a still simmering Mr. Porter. “Beware,” he intoned, standing before the tribunal panel. “Beware.”

Maclean’s has a right, and an obligation, to present “vital detailed opinion. It’s what journalism does for liberty.” His voice rose. His body trembled. It was said by one witness “that you cannot cry fire in a crowded house. Oh yes you can,” declared Mr. Porter. “You must, if in your considered view, there is a fire. It is your duty to cry fire.”

A decision from the tribunal is forthcoming.