Thursday, September 24, 2009

Freedom of the Press Victory in Alberta

From Karen Kleiss at the Edmonton Journal: Alberta's Human Rights and Citizenship Commission has dismissed nine human rights complaints filed against the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald in connection with a controversial editorial published seven years ago.

A bit of background from Kleiss' article: In April 2002, the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald published an editorial, titled "Apocalyptic Creed", in which strong language was used to condemn the use of suicide bombers, and to suggest the death of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy might have been used in a propaganda campaign urging children to martyrdom. A flurry of letters to the editor resulted, along with human-rights complaints filed by nine organizations.

With his senior officer's support, a human-rights investigator decided that the editorial did expose certain groups to hatred and contempt and forwarded a decision to a director for review in January 2005. The Edmonton Journal filed a notice of motion in July 2006 that argued neither the commission nor the province had the jurisdiction to decide the issue. "Political speech can't be the subject of provincial human-rights legislation," he said. "This was political speech, and the Supreme Court of Canada settled that issue many years ago with the Alberta Press Bill case."

Kleiss: "From our perspective, it is a victory for freedom of expression," Journal editor-in-chief Allan Mayer said. "There's a huge difference between a provocative editorial and hate literature, and that distinction has been clearly made by this human-rights ruling. Lorne Motley, editor-in-chief of the Calgary Herald, said this is clearly a victory for press freedom.

1 comment:

Hank said...

As welcome as this decision is, it still raises two questions.

First, why did it take 7 years to reach a decision? Seven years is time enough to enter college and achieve a PhD! It's nice to be found "innocent", but 7 years is a long time to bleed. Is it all about "make work" -- job creation for bureaucrats, feeding the lawyers?

Second, and more to the point, why was the matter considered in the first place? Why do we have to humor those with "chronically offended disorder" (COD)? Reading the editorial and deciding to move on would not take even 7 minutes. Instead, the chronically offended get to indulge themselves again and again, at our cost.

Sadly, seeing someone get jerked around for 7 years is a great way to silence other people. To avoid sending that very harmful message by this decision, there is one further step required: Send the complainants the bills, and a couple of aspirin. When we don't do that, it is hard not to conclude that what we really want is to intimidate and silence those disagree with conventional wisdom.

Next time you don't like the editorial, cancel your subscription, write a letter to the editor, whatever. The time and money wasted on such self-evident cases is terrible. If the present system can waste 7 years on something so trivial, I say that we can easily live without these commissions and tribunals.