“Minor bureaucrats indulging strange James Bond fantasies”: The testimony of Mark Steyn to the Justice Committee

That is actually the age we live in, where people can have one infraction and their life implodes, their career implodes, they’re vapourized for it. That is actually one of the most disturbing trends on the free speech issue.


Thank you very much, Monsieur le Président, and also to the honourable members of the committee. I am honoured to be here.

I would like to say a quick word—as much as I always enjoy seeing Ms. Raitt—about the defenestration of Mr. Cooper from this committee which I understand is the business of the members of the committee.

I am concerned. I was driving into Ottawa listening to my old friend, Evan Solomon, on the radio who was arguing that in fact, it was perhaps time for Mr. Cooper to be booted from caucus.

That is actually the age we live in, where people can have one infraction and their life implodes, their career implodes, they’re vapourized for it. That is actually one of the most disturbing trends on the free speech issue. The surviving vice-chair of this committee said recently that Jordan Peterson should not be permitted to testify to this committee. Bernie Farber, I believe just last night, said Lindsay Shepherd should be booted from appearing before this committee.

Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Peterson are law-abiding Canadian citizens, and this practice of labelling people and demanding that they be instantly de-platformed, booted from polite society is, in fact, more serious than some of the other matters before this committee.

I was here last time around, 10 years ago, when we got rid of section 13 because it was corrupt in absolutely every aspect of its operation from minor bureaucrats indulging strange James Bond fantasies and playing undercover dress-up Nazis on the Internet to pathetic rubber stamp jurists who gave section 13 a 100% conviction rate that even respectable chaps like Kim Jong-Un and Saddam Hussein would have thought was perfectly ridiculous.

The worst aspect of it was secret trials, secret trials in Ottawa, not in Tehran or Pyongyang, but in Ottawa. I discovered it one evening before dinner and I emailed my friends at Maclean’s and the eminent barrister Julian Porter whom I see the Prime Minister recently retained as his Q.C., that’s how respectable he is. Julian, in a couple of hours, wrote a motion referencing Viscount Haldaneand Ambard versus Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago, real law, not the pseudo law of section 13, and did what John did. Julian’s motion opened up that dank, fetid dungeon of pseudo justice to the public to the people of Canada and after 20 minutes in the cleansing sunlight that John talked about, the unimpressive jurist in that case, Athanasios Hadjis, decided that section 13 was unconstitutional and he wasn’t going to have anything more to do with it. Sunshine works.

The most important aspect, while we’re quoting judges, John Moulton wrote a famous essay a century ago on the realm of manners. He said the measure of a society is not what one is forbidden to do, which is to murder and steal and rape, and not what one is compelled to do, such as pay the taxes or join the army or whatever, but you measure a society by the space in between, the realm of manners, where free people regulate themselves. Canadians do not bash gays, or lynch minorities because they are enjoined by the state not to do so. They do so because they are operating in Lord Moulton’s realm of manners where free people, civilized people regulate themselves. That is where the internal contradictions of a fractious multicultural society should be played out.

The idea of bureaucrats once again getting into this business is deeply disturbing. They didn’t have enough work last time. They had to actually. Shortly before the Maclean’s case which was the one I was involved in, the senior counsel of the Canadian Human Rights Commission actually went to Toronto to speak to various groups to say they weren’t getting enough cases and that’s why people should file more complaints.

Ultimately, free speech is hate speech, and hate speech is free speech. It’s for the speech you hate, the speech you revile. The alternative to free speech is approved speech, and that necessarily means approved by whom? Approved by yourself as a citizen, if you don’t want to have Lindsay Shepherd over to dinner, as Bernie Farber doesn’t, that’s fair enough, but once it becomes speech approved by the state, and speech approved by formal bodies, it effectively means the speech approved by the powerful.

The biggest threat to free speech at the moment is a malign alliance between governments and big tech doing the kinds of things Lindsay spoke of. The photograph that sums it up is the one of Mr. Trudeau with Ms. May, Ms. Ardern and President Macron sitting across the table from the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple. Six woke billionaires who presume to regulate the opinions of all seven billion people on this planet. That is far more of a threat than some pimply 17-year-old neo-Nazi tweeting in his mother’s basement somewhere out on the Prairies. That issue is the real threat to genuine liberty in our society.

I cannot believe that a mere 10 years on we are talking about restoring this law. It was appalling and unfortunately, this committee and the House never actually confronted it in reality.  I will finally say this on a personal note. I was born in Canada; I love Canada; I would die for Canada; I am old-fashioned enough to take the allegiance of citizenship seriously, but no monarch, no Parliament, no government, and certainly no bureaucratic agency operating the pseudo-law of section 13 can claim jurisdiction over my right to think freely, to read freely, to speak freely and to argue freely.  Thank you very much, sir.


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