In defence of Mark Steyn

In defence of Mark Steyn

A couple of weeks ago, I reported in this space about Mark Steyn’s appearance at Indigo’s Bay and Bloor store, during which Heather Reisman interviewed him. I suggested the event might better have been titled “White Guys’ Night Out” or some such, and played it mostly for laughs. The story picked up again yesterday, when the National Post featured an op-ed by left-coast writer Terry O’Neill on the subject of Macleans’—and by extension, Mark Steyn’s—upcoming trial before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal (a discrimination complaint brought “on behalf of Muslim residents in the province of British Columbia” that will be heard on June 2). O’Neill reminds us that when you defend free speech, you’re doing it for everyone. Or, in the words of Noam Chomsky: “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

In this case, O’Neill observes that the B.C. commission developed the way it did in order to combat the likes of the late Doug Collins, a virulently offensive, arguably anti-Semitic columnist for North Shore News, a Vancouver community newspaper. He quotes Robert Fulford, opining that Collins “played to a particularly odious gallery. If he was not a Holocaust denier, he was certainly a Holocaust trivializer.” To wit, Collins referred to Schindler’s List as “Swindler’s List.”

Collins died in 2001 and the cases brought against him more or less died with him. His legacy is the commission’s terms of reference regarding speech that, writes O’Neill, make “it an offence to publish anything that so much as ‘indicates discrimination’ or ‘is likely to expose’ to discrimination someone from a protected group. Writers can be convicted even if no actual discrimination resulted and even if what they wrote was true.”

This, not to put too fine a point on it, is nuts. A fellow journo covering the Garth Drabinsky trial this morning said it best. “I hate those guys. They’re forcing me to defend Mark Steyn.” And so should we all. On serious issues of race and pluralism, Steyn is glib and simplistic. But the fact is he’s also funny and effective, which puts him in a whole other league from some tattooed cracker with a megaphone. Come June 2, one hopes saner heads prevail.

• The original Bete Noire [National Post]