Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Harper's "(Stop) Talking Points" memo

Kathie Shaidle has a really good column in today's National Post on this week's discovery of the Harper government's meek and evasive talking points on the human rights commission controversy.

The federal Justice Minister's Irony Detector must be in the shop for a tune-up. How else to explain the memo issued by Rob Nicholson's office to every Conservative MP last week?

According to Al Siebring at, who leaked the confidential memo entitled Talking Points re: CHRA & CHRC, "it basically instructs MPs to keep a very low profile on any discussion surrounding Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act."

I suppose those bloggers who've been running netroots "free speech" campaigns since late last year can look at it this way: That "Talking Points" memo shows that the government has indeed been getting all our calls, faxes and e-mails.

Too bad the PMO's response to citizens' concerns about the erosion of their free speech rights is to issue a (secret) document, telling our elected representatives to keep quiet or change the subject.

Sounds more like a "(Stop) Talking Points" memo. Let's review:

Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant, along with Maclean's magazine and columnist Mark Steyn, are being hauled before various Canadian human rights commissions (CHRCs): the former for publishing the controversial "Muhammad" cartoons, the latter for excerpting Steyn's bestselling book America Alone.

Self-styled representatives of the Muslim community accuse Levant and Maclean's of violating the Canadian Human Rights Act, because what they published is allegedly, in the words of Section 13.1, "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt."

Note that magic word "likely." No need to prove that these publications inspired actual hate crimes, like arson or assault. Rather, appointed CHRC bureaucrats need merely deem it "likely" that the Western Standard or Maclean's magazine might inspire persons unknown to commit offenses of some sort or other between now and the end of the world.

It's "thought crime" meets "future crime," but without the cool flying cars you'd at least get in a dystopian sci-fi flick.

As word of this Orwellian state of affairs spread beyond Canadian bloggers into the mainstream media, it was a Liberal MP, Dr. Keith Martin, who introduced private members motion M-446, which reads: "That, in the opinion of the House, subsection 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act should be deleted from the Act."

In fact, as Ezra Levant himself observed on his website yesterday, Liberals like Martin, not to mention the Alberta Liberal party, have displayed more vocal, principled opposition to CHRC abuses than their Conservative counterparts.

Sure enough, the Justice Minister's "Talking Points" memo consists mostly of empty calorie cliches.

If asked about the Levant and Steyn cases by journalists or constituents, Conservative MPs are instructed to stress that the Harper government "is committed to the protection and promotion of human rights," and add that "Canada's record on human rights is second to none."

Then, if "asked about the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and its processes," the memo advises, "refer [the] letter writer to the CHRC's website."

Sounds like that twist ending to many a horror film, when the lone survivor is finally "rescued" -- and driven right back to the zombie compound.

Finally, MPs are told to steer the subject away from Keith Martin's call to amend Section 13, and to focus instead on the "government's ongoing efforts" -- which many "free speech" frontliners are hearing about for the first time-- "to repeal Section 67 of the Act." This is the provision that, as the memo explains, exempts First Nations "from receiving the same legal protection against discrimination that is afforded to all other Canadians."

A worthy goal, but please: One normally has to attend a high school talent show to witness such amateur sleight of hand.

When bloggers first heard of the accusations against Steyn and Levant, and began mounting campaigns to "stop the CHRCs" from further stifling freedom of speech, many were encouraged by a rediscovered, then widely circulated, quotation from future Prime Minister Stephen Harper, circa 1999:

"Human Rights Commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society … It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff."

Looks like Stephen Harper lost a few things during his move to 24 Sussex Drive. Namely, a principle or two. - Kathy Shaidle blogs at

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