Editor’s Note: On Sept. 22, Interim Publishing released The Tyranny of Nice: How Canada Crushes Freedom in the Name of Human Rights (and Why It Matters to Americans) as an e-book (electronic book) and two weeks later as a paperback (see advertisement on page 7). Internationally reknowned columnist Mark Steyn wrote the introduction. Interim editor Paul Tuns interviewed the co-authors, Kathy Shaidle and Pete Vere. Shaidle is a Toronto-based blogger (FiveFeetOfFury.com) and Vere is a Sault Ste. Marie-based freelance writer and a senior writer for The Interim.
The Interim: Where did the idea of writing a book about human rights commissions come from?
Pete Vere: It came while interviewing Mark van Dusen, one of the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s media spokespersons, for the Washington Times. Mr. van Dusen seemed to suggest during our interview that the commission’s questionable investigation tactics were justified, because of the unsavoury individuals that the commission was investigating. I found this frightening.
A democracy is measured by its respect for the rights and freedoms of those it deems least desirable within society. These rights and freedoms are universal and should be respected in each individual. When the government begins to trample the rights and freedoms of certain people – deeming them undesirable – then one is no longer living in a democracy.
Because this trampling often takes place behind closed doors, outside of the public eye, I felt a book was important to raise awareness both among Canadians, who are losing their democratic rights and freedoms to the state, and among Americans who are in danger of following Canada – despite the protection afforded by the First Amendment.
TI: Tell me a bit about the process of co-writing a book.
PV: I’ve co-authored several books now, with several different authors on several different topics. The process is unique to each book, depending upon the topic and the co-authors. Kathy is the stronger author between the two of us, so on a personal level, I enjoyed learning some of her techniques for strengthening my writing.
We had become interested in this issue from different angles – she through the Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant cases, myself through the Fr. de Valk, Pastor Boissoin and the other faith-based cases. So the division of labour was easily established early on in the process: she dealt with freedom of speech, while I dealt with freedom of religion. This accounted for four chapters in the book – two each.
The remaining chapters were truly co-written, to the point where at the end of them, it was difficult to remember who wrote what. I enjoyed this part of the book immensely. I would write a couple paragraphs, e-mail it off to Kathy who would edit and add to what I had written, before sending it back to me to similar treatment, until after about two dozen or so exchanges, the chapter was written in draft form. Then we would polish it and tighten the style.
TI: How did Mark Steyn come to write the introduction?
Kathy Shaidle: I’d been writing about the Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant cases for various U.S. publications and blogging about them daily from day one. Pete Vere called me one day and said, “We should write a book about this.” I said “sure,” but didn’t know what would come of it.
Then Pete interviewed Mark Steyn for the Washington Times and Mark actually said, “Someone should write a book about all this someday …” So Pete piped up about our plan, which at that stage wasn’t much of a plan. Mark immediately offered to write the introduction and help in any way he could. Naturally, it was his generosity and support that got this book off the ground. I doubt we’d have written and published The Tyranny of Nice without his help.
TI: Why should Canadians care about human rights commissions? After all, most people will never be hauled before one for the politically incorrect statements they might make in private.
PV: Canadians should care for three reasons. First, tyranny always begins with little things, small restrictions on rights and freedoms that eventually expand into bloodshed. This is the lesson of both the French Revolution and Nazi Germany. If we don’t protect freedom now, then we pay a bloody price to recover it down the road.
The second is that it affects our international reputation. From its inception, Canada has enjoyed an excellent international reputation. We are often seen as a country upon which others model their democracy. Canada’s human rights commissions and tribunals have tarnished this reputation. The international media have devoted more ink to this story than our national media, making Canada a laughingstock in the global village.
The third is that it eventually affects everyone. Going back to Dr. Stubbs, his case will reverberate throughout the medical community. Our health care system is troubled enough as it is without doctors constantly looking over their shoulders to ensure their medical diagnoses don’t conflict with some bureaucrat’s theories on tolerance and multi-culturalism.
TI: What kind of media coverage have you had for the Tyranny of Nice?
PV: Tyranny of Nice has received excellent coverage in the U.S., as well as Canada. Much of it has been the internet and talk radio – or the “new media” as it is often called. Kathy was interviewed by Rod Breckenridge on CHQR in Calgary. But generally, Americans have shown a great interest in these cases because they are happening right next door, in a country similar to their own. Americans place a strong value on freedom of speech ? Thus our situation in Canada has been a wake-up call to Americans.
Also, both Kathy and I were on the Michael Coren Show on CTS.
TI: As a critic of human rights commissions, what is the core issue for you?
KS: I think I’m the only HRC critic who sees this as not just a free speech issue, but a property rights issue. Thanks to Ed Broadbent, who refused to sign the Charter otherwise, property rights are not acknowledged and protected in our Constitution. Canada has a far more collectivist mentality than our American cousins. Why else would the Canadian Islamic Congress think nothing of trying to hijack a private institution like Maclean’s magazine, and blithely insist on getting 5,000 words of “rebuttal” space? Why else would gay activists try to matter-of-factly hijack Scott Brockie’s printing press or two lesbians try to commandeer the Knights of Columbus Hall as their “right”? The left’s collectivist mentality is on display there and it is so ingrained they, and we, don’t even recognize it as one key to the problem … It is just part of “Canadian culture.” We don’t know how to contemplate and articulate an alternative. Had the CIC gone after the CBC for some real or imagined offence, at least they’d have had a case, sort of, as their taxes were being used to offend them.
TI: There have been many critics of human rights commissions, including The Interim, who have been attempting to expose the trampling of freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of the press for years. The issue of human rights commissions seemed to really take off in 2008. What happened?
KS: Timing and personality. Many older cases familiar to your readers, like the Scott Brockie case, they learned about through Christian publications like yours. However, those publications are mostly “preaching to the choir,” sad to say. Finite, labour-intensive, expensive-to-mail media like small newspapers have a limited readership, reach and influence.
The Steyn and Levant cases, on the other hand, both broke when internet blogs had matured. Their pre-existing fan base, especially Steyn’s, mounted an unorganized, informal “netroots” online campaign to spread the word about their cases. Unlike old-fashioned print newsletters and petitions, online publicity is low cost, immediate and able to travel the world at the push of a button.
And Steyn and Levant were always extraordinarily gracious about all the help they were getting. And unlike many of the previous victims of the HRCs, frankly, Steyn and Levant are both extremely articulate men with a keen sense of public relations – and senses of humour. Not everyone “likes” them – as we say in our book, even one of Ezra’s friends calls him “the most annoying man on this earth.” However, enough people do that it made a difference in how their cases were presented and received.
I’ve tried to advise three different, lesser-known folks with HRC cases on how to “win friends and influence people.” And alas, they usually insist on sticking with their losing tactics: using insider jargon only their small group of followers understands; employing words like “homos” and “Zionists” and “sodomites” in their missives; sending out mis-spelled, ungrammatical, angry and frankly ugly messages and running tacky, homely websites – generally doing all the things that keep small groups like the John Birch Society small groups forever ?
We need to acknowledge the role that personality plays in this process as, alas, it does in all human affairs. Some people are simply more attractive than others and people like to side with happy warriors (and winners) ? Yes, Steyn and Levant have spent their careers building up impressive Rolodexes of influential people from the White House down who they could turn to in these very situations. But nothing was stopping lesser-known victims of the HRCs from doing exactly the same thing all this time.
Steyn and Levant – as they were the first to acknowledge – “won” their cases because of who they were, not on the merits of the “evidence” against them. None of this is fair, but life isn’t fair and all this is simple human nature.
TI: Human rights commissions were a big issue with conservative and libertarian bloggers, with some newspaper columnists and in Maclean’s, but it didn’t seem to be a political issue at all in the 2008 election campaign. Why?
PV: I think the campaigns were scared to broach this issue. The human rights industry is quite the profitable little enterprise. And as we have seen with various lawsuits and “human rights investigations” that have come to light over the past year, the proponents of this enterprise can become quite testy, and even vengeful, when light is shed on their operation. In fact, several of our media colleagues warned Kathy and me that this was a dangerous issue to tackle because of the commission’s power.
Thus, I wasn’t surprised to be told by two well-placed individuals – one in Stephen Harper’s office and the other in Stephane Dion’s – that their respective parties were unable to address the issue, despite serious concerns over how these commissions and tribunals operate.
What this told me was two things: first, there is essentially no difference between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Both are eager to sacrifice the principles of democracy for power. Second, appearance really is everything in politics. Freedom of speech and religion are essential human rights. Yet, both parties would rather maintain the appearance of supporting human rights, even when doing so means undermining the actual rights and freedoms one claims to support.
TI: Considering the various human rights decisions over the years, which one strikes you as the most outrageous or absurd?
PV: The case I found the most disturbing was that of Dr. Stubbs. He was hauled before the Ontario Human Rights Commission for declining to operate on two transsexuals, because he lacked the medical knowledge and experience to perform labiaplasty and breast augmentation on transsexuals. Somehow, this was deemed discriminatory, even through transsexuals are physiologically different than women born as women. Science is science. Facts are facts. It frightens me that the government would endanger the lives of its citizens, and potentially force doctors to perform operations they do not feel qualified to carry out, because medical reality does not conform to identity politics. This is the Tyranny of Nice – a tyranny that imposes itself in the name of tolerance even to the point of endangering lives.
TI: Kathy, what decision do you consider the most outrageous?
KS: Without a doubt, the case of Dr. Stubbs and the labioplasty. People can read about it in the book if they dare.
TI: Can human rights commissions be fixed or should they be scrapped altogether?
KS: Apologists have mostly backed down, because people like me are beating them. Now, they insist merely that the HRCs recover their original mandate of handling only employment and housing discrimination. But look at those employment cases: incompetent, insane or simply petulant employees getting thousands of dollars because, for instance, they don’t want to wash their hands after using the bathroom. So now all those “Employees Must Wash Hands” signs are the moral equivalent of “Whites Only” or “No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish.”
Again, even many fellow conservatives simply assume that government has a role in such things. I am far more libertarian than most of my fellow Canadian conservatives, more like an American trapped in a Canadian’s body ? It doesn’t matter to me who the prime minister is or what the law says. I violate Section 13.1 of the hate crimes law every day on my blog (if I’m doing it right). So do other bloggers. The law is unjust and unenforceable. If enough people simply ignore it, and live as if it has already been scrapped, the law will wither away and be forgotten. We have to change the culture. Changing the law will come much later as it always does.