Collins interviewed by CBC team last
Vancouver, February 8, 1999
torpedoes B.C.'s free press
IF you don't succeed:
try, try again. In B.C. [British
Columbia, Canada] that's the modus
operandi of the province's human rights
Target for today was Doug
Collins and the North Shore News.
Those who put much stock in the
workings of human rights commissions will
see Wednesday's decision as a direct
After all it upheld a complaint lodged
against the News and Collins by Harry
Abrams. The complaint alleged that
four Collins columns published five years
ago in the News violated the province's
Human Rights Code by exposing Jewish
persons to hatred and contempt.
But those who put more stake in
democratic principles will know that the
B.C. Human Rights Commission, like other
such commissions across the land, is an
arm of the government charged with
cultivating the New Age victim industry.
They will also know that the decision is
another extremely disturbing sign on the
road to state intervention in the free
marketplace of ideas.
For example, the tribunal concluded
that individually "and taken out of
context" the columns at issue don't
violate the code, but somehow collectively
That reasoning is all part of the
elastic human rights business. If you are
selective in what you choose to excerpt
from any body of written work the
conclusions you can come up with are wide
open. You can as News lawyer David
Sutherland said, "make Snow White out
to be Beelzebub."
The latest tribunal also claimed the
right to reinterpret the already foggy
Human Rights Code so that one tribunal's
interpretation of the code doesn't
necessarily bind another to that
In other words: reinterpret it as
And, as part of the tribunal's remedy,
the News has been ordered to publish
government-dictated content -- this even
though the challenge to the
constitutionality of the human rights
legislation has yet to be heard. We
therefore have a government-decreed remedy
before the case has been completed.
And the Human Rights Code provides no
authority for a tribunal to demand that a
newspaper publish its findings. The
summary is published in today's News under
In addition, the tribunal ordered that
the News and Collins cease to publish
statements "that ... are likely to expose
Jewish persons to hatred and contempt ...
Who decides what is "likely" to expose
anyone to hatred or contempt? In case you
are confused, the government will be glad
to fill in the blanks for you.
As media libel lawyer Roger
McConchie has noted in the past, the
sections of B.C.'s Human Rights Code at
issue here are designed to prosecute
"speech that is not criminal."
As to the human rights process itself,
it is from the outset hopelessly weighed
against the targets of complaints and
defendants, for example, have no
recourse to traditional legal avenues
of defence such as truth and fair
And complainants in any human rights
tribunal are automatically eligible for
legal aid to fund their cases.
Complainant Abrams took full advantage
of that taxpayer largesse.
The News had no such option.
Its five-year human rights battle has
cost the News well over $200,000 and has
held the Sword of Damocles over the
newspaper for that entire time.
There is also no restriction on the
number of times a human rights defendant
can be tried on the same charge.
The News chose to walk out of the most
recent human rights show trial because the
newspaper was, in effect, being retried on
the same charge that it had successfully
defended itself against during a five-week
hearing in 1997.
B.C.'s taxpayer-funded human rights
machinery is designed to wear down the
target to the point where it no longer has
the will or the resources to defend
Special interest pressure groups won
this round. Democracy lost.