Joined: 09 Sep 2006
|Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2009 4:36 pm Post subject: CANADA: Arabs lose appeal to silence press
|Complaints against Alberta newspapers dismissed by human-rights commission
By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton JournalSeptember 23, 2009Be the first to post a comment
EDMONTON — Alberta's Human Rights and Citizenship Commission has dismissed nine complaints filed against the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald in connection with a controversial editorial published seven years ago.
The complaints were lodged by Muslim and Palestinian organizations and their supporters, who argued the editorial was likely to incite hatred or contempt toward Palestinian Arabs and Muslims, contrary to Alberta's Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act.
In a seven-page decision dated Sept. 21, commission director Marie Riddle dismissed all the complaints.
"Although in my opinion statements made in the editorial . . . were offensive, based on the recent case law, I can find no basis to forward the complaint for a human-rights panel, and I hereby dismiss the complaint," Riddle wrote.
Journal lawyer Fred Kozak said the editorial expressed the opinion that delegates attending a meeting in Malaysia should condemn the use of suicide bombers as an inappropriate way of bringing about political change.
"Free expression must always include the right to criticize people, organizations and governments," Kozak said. "It should also include the right to publish a wide variety of views and opinions and perspectives, especially concerning political events in the international community.
"(This decision) recognizes that language is, and will always be, an imperfect way of communicating, and that the expression of opinion will always provoke other expressions of opinion — but that is highly valued in a democracy."
He said the editorial sparked a huge debate and the Journal's decision to publish two dozen highly critical letters to the editor is evidence that the system of democratic discourse is working.
"That is the whole reason we cherish free expression," he said.
On April 2, 2002, the Journal and the Herald published an editorial distributed by Canwest titled "Apocalyptic Creed."
The 670-word editorial used strong language in condemning the use of suicide bombers, and in suggesting the death of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy might have been used in a propaganda campaign urging children to martyrdom.
Journal readers flooded the newspaper with letters to the editor, and nine organizations lodged human-rights complaints.
A human-rights investigator was assigned to determine whether the complaint had merit. He found the editorial did make it more likely than not that Muslims and Palestinian Arabs would be exposed to hatred and contempt. His superior upheld the decision, and it was forwarded to the director for review in January 2005.
In July 2006, the Journal filed a notice of motion that argued neither the commission nor the province had the jurisdiction to decide the issue.
"Political speech can't be the subject of provincial human-rights legislation," he said. "This was political speech, and the Supreme Court of Canada settled that issue many years ago with the Alberta Press Bill case."
Earlier this week, the director issued a decision dismissing the complaint. The organizations have 30 days to appeal.
"From our perspective, it is a victory for freedom of expression," Journal editor-in-chief Allan Mayer said. "There's a huge difference between a provocative editorial and hate literature, and that distinction has been clearly made by this human-rights ruling."
Lorne Motley, editor-in-chief of the Calgary Herald, said this is clearly a victory for press freedom.
"At the core of the argument, the editorial validly expressed opinions regarding political leaders. The ability to put forth these values are central to what our industry is all about. These rulings should help encourage differing views to be debated in a free and meaningful manner in the pages of our newspapers."