Rex Murphy has been a fixture at CBC since the 1970's. I remember him starting to find his voice as an overinflated thesaurus on the local CBC broadcasts in Newfoundland. Since then he has gone on to ever greater podiums from which ever more polysyllabic orations can be poured out over the ever grateful Canadian masses. The latest target of this silver tongued pedant is Christine Lynch (Globe and Mail, November 15, 2008).
Ms. Lynch is the Chair of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Now what evil has Ms. Lynch, the publicly appointed head of the organization our Parliament created to protect human rights, committed? Well it seems that she had the audacity -- the absolute cheek -- to show up at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day to lay a wreath to honour the dead of the various wars that ordinary Canadians have fought in over the last two hundred years. Mr. Murphy thinks it is odd that she should show up because Canada's human rights commissions "offending the very core of the concept" of human rights.
Now what is it that Canada's human rights commissions do that so offends Mr. Murphy? Surely it must be that they keep the racially oppressed from accessing schools? Maybe it is that they foment hatred against oppressed minorities (like Rhodes scholars)? Perhaps they have punished fearless reporters for bravely reporting on the government? Well, no, not really, it seems that what they have done -- wait for it everyone -- is allow people to write them letters and then look into what those letters say. Yep, that's it folks. Christine Lynch's great affront to the Canadians who fought in two world wars and a number of other smaller battles is that she opens her mail, reads it and tries to make sure that she understands what the ordinary Canadians have written to her is taken seriously (even if their complaints are ultimately dismissed out of hand without a hearing).
At the heart of Mr. Murphy's complaint (though he mentions it in just one line) are the complaints launched against Mark Steyn or Macleans by various Muslims who were offended by one of Mr. Steyn's more vitriolic pieces on the future of West in the face of the Muslim onslaught. In each and every one of these cases here is what happened -- somebody at the human rights commission opened the mail, read the letter, invited Mr. Steyn and Macleans to have their say before doing anything and then dismissed the complaints without a hearing. There was no trial or prosecution. There were no jackbooted raids by hordes of feminist or Muslim stormtroopers. All there was was a request that boiled down to 'do you have anything to say about this?' Even though Mr. Steyn and Macleans essentially said 'buzz off' and then launched a year long campaign in the press about the depths of their persecution, the commissions decided that no action was needed.
Mr. Murphy sees the courts as the remedy for protecting 'real' human rights as opposed to what he sees as the trivial and meritless claims of the great unwashed who end up before the human rights commissions across Canada. This plea betrays his ignorance born of the incredible privilege of having a perch at the top of a state sponsored broadcasting network which has supported him for the greater part of his working life. The Courts with their "certain time-tested laws" have given little or no protection to freedom of speech. The law books are filled with laws that prohibit seditious libel, obscenity, alarming Her Majesty and blasphemy. If it were left to the Courts and the time tested laws Mr. Murphy so admires we could say nothing bad about the government, the church or those with enough money to outspend us in a defamation action. Freedom of expression would largely be a right enjoyed by large media corporations who could afford to hire cadres of lawyers to advance their causes.
Furthermore, traditionally the Courts have steadfastly refused to deal with certain affronts which we intrinsically know to be wrong. An employer in the eyes of the courts was entirely free to fire a man for being a Jew, a black or catholic. An employer was free to mock or label a person for all of the same or to dismiss a woman summarily from the workplace for being a woman. A store owner could deny service on similar grounds. A person who suffered even one episode of mental illness could look forward to a life of unemployment and stigma. While there are those amongst us who feel that employers and others should be free to do these things, most of us know that the reason World War II had to be fought was to change that. We know that Hitler did not appear out of thin air, but out of an atmosphere that tolerated casual, thoughtless discrimination and hatred. Those people who fought and died in World War II, I expect died in greater numbers for the ordinary catholic, Jew, woman or black person who was being beaten down by thugs than they did for the rights of the CBC, Globe and Mail or Canwest Global.