The OHRC insists such a body need not "cross the line into censorship," but it is hard to see how it could avoid it. As conceived by Ms. Hall and her activist cocommissioners, a national press council would have the power to accept complaints of discrimination — "particularly from vulnerable groups" — against any member paper, station or Web site. And while the council, at least initially, would have no power to prevent media outlets from printing, posting or broadcasting what they wished, it could force them to carry the council's decisions, including counterarguments made by complainants.National Post columnist Barbara Kay shares her experience with a similar body from Quebec - the Quebec Press Council. It may not yet have the real censorship power, but it can easily make a journalist - "persona non-grata" in Quebec's mainstream media.
It's hard not to view these recommendations as a direct response to the OHRC's frustration with its own inability to persecute Maclean's magazine and columnist Mark Steyn for what the commission viewed as the pair's "Islamophobic" views. Last April, the OHRC was forced to drop its investigation of columns and news stories carried by Maclean's because the legislation governing the commission did not give it authority to investigate published work.
Nonetheless, Ms. Hall left no doubt that she sided with the Canadian Islamic Congress and a group of Muslim university students who felt Maclean's discriminated against their faith. Despite having held no hearing, nor hearing any testimony from the magazine or Mr. Steyn, Ms. Hall and the OHRC nonetheless felt justified in concluding that both parties engaged in journalism that was "inconsistent with the spirit" of the Ontario Human Rights Code and which did "serious harm" to Canadian society by "promoting societal intolerance" and disseminating "destructive, xenophobic opinions."
Ominously, at the time, Ms. Hall also stated that all journalists should put their writings through a "human rights filter" before publication. Because she was not able to force such a filter on Maclean's, her current proposal for a national press council is almost certainly an attempt to make such a filter mandatory, in law.
The St Jean Baptiste Society complained to the QPC, which duly validated their umbrage. On February 19, 2007, I was served notice - along with the National Post, included in the "verdict" - that the council had "condemned" two of my columns. According to the QPC I was guilty of serious ethical lapses: "undue provocation" (nobody defined "undue"), a "lack of rigour" in my writing and - mentioned more than once in the "decision" - the especially grave journalistic sin of "altering the facts" upon which my opinions rested (no such allegedly altered facts were actually adduced, then or ever).Barbara Hall and her fellow jackboots want this self-censorship to be compulsory, from coast to coast. And it's unlikely that they're going to stop there:
Even though my editors took the intervention as a mere irritation - after all, the QPC had no actual power - I was less sanguine, for I quickly realized that my opinion piece would never have been published in a Quebec-based newspaper. Representatives from all the mainstream media sit on the QPC, and they would all know instinctively what would pass muster and what wouldn't. So in fact, even though the council has no legal power, it has strong moral power amongst its constituents. So they self-censure before they publish.
...Making all writers, bloggers and broadcasters hostage to a national press council is merely the first step toward letting the Barbara Halls of the world decide what you get to hear, see and read.And, unfortunately, that's not mere fear-mongering. Sooner or later those jackboots will have to cross the national borders to persecute outspoken bloggers and journalists. At the very least, they'll have to mandate every ISP to restrict access to foreign resources so that free thinking Canadians can't avoid their censorship by getting themselves a foreign hosting with a foreign domain name.