Alberta rakes journalist over the coals for publishing Danish cartoons

Tilberian's picture

What a strange place Canada is


Special to Globe and Mail Update

January 21, 2008 at 12:32 AM EST

A few days ago, I was interrogated for 90 minutes by Shirlene McGovern, an officer of the government of Alberta. I have been accused of hurting people's feelings because, two years ago, I published the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in the Western Standard magazine.

Ms. McGovern's business card said she was a "Human Rights Officer." What a perfectly Orwellian title.

Early in her interrogation, she said "I always ask people … what was your intent and purpose of your article?"

It wasn't even a question about what we had published in the magazine. It was a question about my private thoughts. I asked her why my private feelings were of interest to the government. She said, very calmly, that they would be a factor taken into account by the government in determining whether or not I was guilty.

Officer McGovern said it as calmly as if I had asked her what time it was.

When she's doing government interrogations, she always asks people about their thoughts.

It was so banal, so routine. When she walked in, she seemed happy. With a smile, she reached out her hand to shake mine. I refused — to me, nothing could have been more incongruous. Would I warmly greet a police officer who arrested me as a suspect in a crime? Then why should I do so for a thought crime? This was not normal; I would not normalize it with the pleasantries of polite society.

This was not a high-school debating tournament where Human Rights Officer McGovern and I were equals, enjoying a shared interest in politics and publishing. I was there because I was compelled to be there by the government, and if I answered Officer McGovern's political questions unsatisfactorily, the government could fine me thousands of dollars and order me to publicly apologize for holding the wrong views.

I told her that the complaint process itself was a punishment. Even if I was eventually acquitted, I would still lose — hundreds of hours, and tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills. That's not an accident, that's one of the tools of these commissions. Every journalist in the country has been taught a lesson: Censor yourself now, or be put through a costly wringer. I said all this and then Officer McGovern replied, "You're entitled to your opinions, that's for sure."

But that's not for sure, is it? We're only entitled to our opinions now if they don't offend some very easily offended people.

One of the complainants against me is someone I would describe as a radical Muslim imam, Syed Soharwardy. He grew up in the madrassas of Pakistan and he lectures on the Saudi circuit. He advocates sharia law for all countries, including Canada. His website is rife with Islamic supremacism — offensive to many Canadian Jews, gentiles, women and gays. But his sensitivities — his Saudi-Pakistani values — have been offended by me.

And so now the secular government of Alberta is enforcing his fatwa against the cartoons.

It's the same for Mohamed Elmasry, the complainant against Maclean's magazine for publishing an excerpt from Mark Steyn's book, America Alone. Egyptian-born Elmasry has publicly said that any adult Jew in Israel is a legitimate target for a terrorist attack, a grossly offensive statement.

Both the Canadian and B.C. Human Rights Commissions are now hearing his complaints against Maclean's.

How did it come to be that rough and, I would say, bigoted men such as Mr. Soharwardy and Mr. Elmasry could, by simply claiming that their tender feelings were hurt, sic a government bureaucracy on a magazine, or anyone for that matter?

On this point, I agree with Mr. Soharwardy and Mr. Elmasry: I blame the Jews.

A generation ago, illiberal elements in the "official" Jewish community pressed Canadian governments to introduce laws limiting free speech. The targets of those laws were invariably poor, unorganized, harmless neo-Nazi cranks and conspiracy theorists such as Ernst Zundel and Jim Keegstra — nobodies who were turned into international celebrities when they were prosecuted for their thought crimes.

But now come Mr. Elmasry and Mr. Soharwardy and their ilk, using the very precedents set by the Canadian Jewish Congress.

Before Mr. Soharwardy went to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, he went to the Calgary Police Service and demanded that they arrest me. He's done that three times now, and they've rejected him every time. But he only had to ask the willing enforcers of the human rights commission once.

What a strange place Canada is in 2008, where the police care more about human rights than the human rights commissions do, where fundamentalist Muslims use hate-speech laws drafted by secular Jews, and where a government bureaucrat can interrogate a publisher for 90 minutes, and be shocked when he won't shake her hand in greeting.

It's time to stop protecting people's feelings with state power. Muslims wanting to block the publication of cartoons should show clearly and with evidence how the cartoons are really hurting them in objective ways. Failing that, they should fuck off. 


Lazy is a word we use when someone isn't doing what we want them to do.
- Dr. Joy Brown