A Letter From Karl


You may have heard about the “human rights commissions” in Canada. These are extra-judicial bodies set up to make an end run around judicial niceties. The commissions are staffed by left-wing activists who, unable to win election to provincial legislatures, try to impose their will by coming down hard on people who are not left-wing activists.

The main purpose of the commissions is to squelch free speech. This is done by dragging before the commissions people who speak their minds and whose minds are not in accord with left-wing views.

The commissions have been styled by commentators who are not left-wing activists as “kangaroo courts.” This is imprudent talk, because it probably will result in some poor Canadian writer being brought before a commission on a charge of hating marsupials.

The best-known case now before a human rights commission concerns Mark Steyn, a Canadian journalist who, in Maclean’s magazine, wrote an article (actually, an excerpt of his book America Alone) alleging, more or less, that Muslims are not friendly to Western culture and that Western culture is to be preferred to Muslim culture.

This did not sit well with Muslims in Canada. One of them filed a complaint against Steyn and Maclean’s, asking the human rights commission in British Columbia to penalize them for “hate speech.” The goal is to cow the magazine—and other periodicals in Canada—into silence, making it too onerous and expensive to run articles that counter left-wing sensibilities.

How can this happen, you ask? In Canada there is no equivalent of our First Amendment. In America you can write pretty much what you please, and the government can’t do anything about it. In Canada (as in Europe), you don’t have that liberty. Saying the “wrong” thing can get you in a lot of trouble.

(Which reminds me of a joke that made the rounds when Nikita Khrushchev ruled the Soviet Union. Johnny and Ivan guarded opposite sides at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. They daily exchanged brags about their respective countries. One day Johnny thought he had come up with proof of the superiority of the American system: free speech. He said, “I can stand in front of the White House and yell, ‘President Eisenhower is a fool,’ and nothing will happen to me.” Ivan thought for a moment and then replied, “So what? I can stand in front of the Kremlin and yell, ‘President Eisenhower is a fool,’ and nothing will happen to me either.”)

The Canadian human rights commissions are not elected bodies. They do not have established rules of evidence. The government picks up the legal bills for people who prosecute complaints through the commissions, but the accused have to cover their own expenses. Naturally, this is a disincentive for the defense.

Mark Steyn and Maclean’s have the wherewithal to cover their costs, but many accused persons do not. Unable to afford to fight the charges, they cave. This, of course, tends to encourage additional frivolous complaints.

But some people and groups without deep pockets choose to fight back. Case in point: Fr. Alphonse de Valk and Catholic Insight magazine.

The Catholic priest, well known for his pro-life activities, wrote in defense of the Church’s teaching on marriage. Specifically, he wrote against “gay marriage,” citing the Bible, the catechism, and the writings of John Paul II. He wrote nothing that you or I would consider inflammatory; he simply restated constant Church teaching: marriage can exist only between one man and one woman.

What Fr. de Valk got for his troubles was a complaint filed by homosexuals who accused him of fostering “extreme hatred and contempt.” So far, the legal expenses for the priest and his magazine have exceeded $20,000. They are sure to rise.

Catholic Insight is a small-circulation, orthodox Catholic magazine. (That is almost tautological. All orthodox Catholic magazines have small circulations.) If its legal bills pile up enough, the magazine will have to fold—which is probably the goal of both the complainants and the activists on the human rights commission.

Fr. de Valk and Catholic Insight deserve our support because they support Catholic teachings. The magazine’s web site has an appeal for help in covering the legal bills. There are instructions about how to write a check or how to contribute through PayPal.

A few days ago, I donated $500 to the magazine’s legal defense fund. I hope a good many of you will choose help too. I’d like to see Fr. de Valk have a kitty large enough for him to do whatever it takes to defend his magazine and, derivatively, the Church, because the complaint filed against him and Catholic Insight really is an attack on the Catholic Church and Catholic moral teaching.

Until next time,

Karl Keating

(questions for Karl may be directed to Catholic Answers)

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