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'It does cause one to weep'

The Alice in Wonderland world of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

Terry ONeill - June 4, 2008

After spending a day crammed into a subterranean Vancouver courtroom to witness the start of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal's bizarre and troubling hearing into the Islamic Congress of Canada's human-rights complaint against Maclean's, a sensitive soul is compelled to look to the great books for solace and, perhaps, some insight into the nature of the tragicomic event.

Given the circumstances, one's thoughts turn to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a work noted not only for its depiction of a world turned upside down but also for some rather telling insights in humanity's foibles. "Everything's got a moral," Lewis Carroll writes, "if you can only find it."

Of course! In the "curiouser and curiouser" world of the Tribunal, the task at hand is not—and, actually, cannot be—to deliver true justice; it is to teach the defendants a lesson. If only they can find it.

After all, as has been documented relentlessly on The Shotgun and even, surprise, surprise, the mainstream press, Maclean's can be convicted under B.C.'s kangaroo-court law of inciting discrimination or hatred even if what Mark Steyn wrote in the October 23, 2006 edition of the magazine, about the threat to the West posed by Muslim population growth, is true and even if there is no evidence that the story sparked any actual discrimination or hatred.

Bang! You're guilty simply because a "protected" group, in this case Muslim Canadians, feels offended and is able to produce supposed "experts" to say that the published material is of the sort that might lead to discrimination or hatred. Our old colleague Ezra Levant, facing a human-rights inquisition of his own in Alberta, has correctly suggested that he and Maclean's stand accused of "pre-crimes," a concept introduced to the masses in the 2002 Tom Cruise science-fiction movie, Minority Report. And, yes, we are aware that we have looked once again to the world of fantasy to illuminate the situation at hand.

One can understand the frustration that Maclean's must be feeling as it attempts to find its way through this peculiar hearing, a hearing in which not only is the deck stacked against the "respondents," but also in which the hearing itself unfolds with a logic that only Carroll could fully appreciate.

Start with the setting: a windowless, oak-panelled courtroom in which the wall clock is frozen permanently at seven seconds past eight o'clock. Time warp? Worm hole? Twilight Zone? Wonderland? Pick your metaphor. They're all apt.

Normally, human-rights hearings are held in board-room-type settings.For some reason, this one has been transferred to an actual courtroom, a change which has had the effect of conferring on the proceedings an unwarranted sense of gravitas. Reporters are told, for example, not to sit in the front row of the gallery, lest they "cross the bar." Poppycock! No bar can exist in a human-rights hearing in which there need not even be lawyers, let alone judges, officiating.

More articles by Terry ONeill