Humanist Perspectives: issue 208: The Tyranny of the Oppressed

The Tyranny of the Oppressed
by Madeline Weld

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
– John 8:32
Maxime Bernier with Andrew Scheer
Photo via Pixabay (modified)

here has been some good news lately on the blasphemy front. Canada recently repealed its blasphemy law and – faith and begorrah! – so will Ireland. In a referendum last October, the Irish voted nearly 2:1 to repeal a blasphemy law introduced in 2009 and the government intends to do so. The bill to repeal Section 296 of Canada’s Criminal Code (whose existence was lamented in issue 195 of Humanist Perspectives) was passed on December 11, and received Royal Assent, making the repeal official, on December 13, 2018. The last time anyone in Canada was convicted of blasphemy was in 1927.

England and Wales abolished blasphemy laws in 2008, but Scotland and Northern Ireland have not yet done so. The Netherlands (2014), Norway (2015), Iceland (2015), France (2016 – in the last hold-out, Alsace-Moselle), Malta (2016), and Denmark (2017) also repealed their blasphemy laws, and legislation to do so has been advanced in Spain and New Zealand. Sweden does not have a blasphemy law and prosecution for blasphemy would be a violation of the US constitution.

But it’s too early to be popping champagne for the demise of blasphemy laws in the West. In a mindboggling decision of October, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings are legally binding in all 28 member states of the European Union, upheld the criminal conviction of Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff and the €480 fine imposed on her by an Austrian court for defaming the Prophet Muhammad. In 2009, Sabaditsch-Wolff made an offhand comment at a seminar she was giving that Mohammad was a pedophile because he married one of his wives, Aisha, when she was six and consummated the marriage when she was nine. The seminar was secretly recorded by a leftist journalist and transcripts were given to the Viennese public prosecutor as evidence of hate speech against Islam. The Austrian judge rationalized that since Mohammad continued to have sex with Aisha until she was 18, when he died, he didn’t have an exclusive desire for underage girls and was therefore not a pedophile. Sabaditsch-Wolff’s appeal was rejected by an appellate court in Vienna and in December, 2013, the Austrian Supreme Court dismissed her request for a new trial, leading her to appeal to the European Court. This paragraph illustrates its thinking:

The Court found in particular that the domestic courts comprehensively assessed the wider context of the applicant’s statements and carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected, and served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria. It held that by considering the impugned statements as going beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate, and by classifying them as an abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam which could stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace, the domestic courts put forward relevant and sufficient reasons.

Protection of religious feelings? Permissible limits of objective debate? An abusive attack on the Prophet of Islam? Huh? With that kind of freedom of expression, who needs censorship?

The European Court of Human Rights enforced sharia blasphemy law for the sake of peace. Its ruling falls in line with the objectives of Resolution 16/18, put forward by the United Nations’ Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to silence criticism of Islam in the West.

And despite the repeal of Section 296, Canadians remain saddled with human rights tribunals and hate speech laws – both of which are all too often used to harass or silence them. We mentioned the case of Shelah Poyer, a Surrey, BC, esthetician, on the inside front cover of HP issue 206. She was served a complaint by the BC Human Rights Tribunal for refusing to do a “Brazilian” waxing on a transwoman with male genitalia who called herself Jonathan. While Poyer argued that she had neither the equipment nor training to do waxings on male genitals and there are plenty of salons that do “Manzilians,” the BC Human Rights Tribunal supported Jonathan’s assertion that Poyer was discriminating based on “gender identity and expression.”

It is relevant that it costs a person nothing to launch a complaint through a human rights tribunal but respondents are responsible for all the legal costs of their defence. It turns out that Jonathan had filed separate human rights complaints against a total of 16 estheticians, but in each case offered to withdraw her complaint for $2500. Going through a Tribunal hearing could cost an esthetician up to $30,000, so she might be tempted to just hand over the $2500. Interestingly, when Jonathan (who we now know is Jonathan Yaniv) learned that Poyer and another esthetician were being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) which takes on selected cases pro bono, she withdrew her complaints against them. To its eternal discredit, the BC Human Rights Tribunal refused the JCCF’s request to tell the other 14 estheticians that it was willing to take their cases as well.

In contrast to the happy outcome for Shelah Poyer, Toronto landlord John Alabi is thousands of dollars in the hole, thanks to an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruling of April, 2017, that was upheld by a Divisional Court. To help with his mortgage payments, Alabi, originally from Nigeria, had rented out an apartment in his home for 15 years. In December, 2014, Walid Madkour and Heba Ismail, a Muslim couple from Egypt, moved in. But they were unhappy for various reasons and gave notice to leave at the end of February. When Alabi wanted to show the apartment, Madkour told him he couldn’t do that when Ismail was at home, which was often, as she wasn’t working. Alabi pointed out that the law gave him the authority to enter with 24 hours’ notice. Madhour wanted an additional one-hour notification so that Ismail could change into modest dress, to which Alabi replied that by law only the 24-hour notice was required. “Welcome to Ontario, Canada,”

Alabi texted.

That evening, the couple called the police on

Alabi, claiming his loud snow shovelling outside their apartment was harassment. The police confirmed to them that their landlord could show the apartment when they were at home. As a courtesy, Alabi agreed to give them five minutes’ notice in addition to the 24-hour notice. Nevertheless, a few days later, the couple accused Alabi of not respecting their prayer space because he didn’t take off his shoes when entering the bedroom where they prayed. Alabi said he wore house shoes, not his outside shoes, and that shoes had never been an issue when he made repairs in the apartment.

Eight months after moving out, the couple filed a complaint against Alabi with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. Although Alabi did not break any Ontario landlord-tenant laws, the Tribunal awarded the couple $12,000 for Alabi’s failure to accommodate their religious practices – less than the $10,000 each they were asking. In addition to finding Alabi insufficiently obliging in giving notice and his wearing of shoes in the prayer room “vexatious,” the Tribunal found a joke about a devout Muslim that Alabi had posted on his Facebook page (which his erstwhile tenants searched after they moved out) “relevant to discerning the respondent’s views on religiously based accommodation requests by Muslims.” The Tribunal also assigned Alabi a mandatory e-learning course on “Human Rights in Rental Housing.” Alabi lost his appeal to a Divisional Court and now also had to pay his accusers’ legal costs of $5,000 as well as his own. He also lost time at work. In the midst of all this, Alabi’s son committed suicide (for which the Tribunal refused to adjourn the hearing) and his wife left him.

Alabi opined that “They are using their religion to victimize me.” Saying that he was shattered and broken, Alabi said, “For the first time in my 20-something years in Canada, I am sorry that I came to this country.” Who wouldn’t resent losing well over $20,000 for a spat with tenants?

Canadian human rights tribunals are allegedly intended to protect individuals from discrimination but these two cases suggest that they are in danger of becoming a politically weaponized vehicle to advance a progressive agenda and accommodate sharia law.

Canadians had also better watch themselves

when it comes to the issue of hate speech, which can be interpreted very broadly. On March 13, Valerie Price, the head of ACT for Canada, and I, its Ottawa chapter leader, were cross-examined by a lawyer for the Ottawa Public Library as part of our application for judicial review of the Library’s decision to cancel the screening of the film Killing Europe the day before it was to have been shown (November 25, 2017). The director, an expatriate Dane who returned to Europe after more than a decade in the US, was going to attend the premiere in Ottawa. The venue was booked a month in advance, the film was vetted by police at the Library’s request, and ACT agreed to pay for security guards. Yet 26 hours before the event, the Library informed us that the film violated their terms and conditions. No specifics were given, but it seems that someone’s objection that the film was hate speech got to them. (The JCCF is handling our case. A ruling by a panel of three judges, based on transcripts of our cross-examinations and those of OPL staff by our lawyer, is expected late this year.)

In another case of attempted censorship, the Toronto venue for a “national teach-in” by Canadians for the Rule of Law held on March 17 had to be changed after the synagogue that was to host it was threatened into pulling out. The new venue was not published and registered attendees were given the information only shortly before the event to prevent it from being shut down by “antifascist” thugs who deemed the group too right-wing, presumably because topics such as “hate speech” and “terrorism and public safety” were on the agenda.

Aside from being subjected to “deplatforming” and physical intimidation, those who stray too far from the progressive narrative will never get published in the mainstream media and can find themselves kicked off social media for wrongthink, including opinions deemed offensive to an “oppressed” group such as trans people. In November, 2018, WordPress shut down the feminist blog GenderTrender in which some of the above-mentioned Jonathan’s creepy social media musings (about talking to underage girls in public restrooms about tampon use) were discussed. As one commentator said referring to WordPress’ censorship, “The excuse is always a ‘terms of service’ violation. They never tell what terms of service are being violated they just erase the website.”

Also in November, Vancouver journalist Meghan Murphy was permanently banned from Twitter for her tweet “Yeah, it’s him” referring to those musings by Jonathan. Murphy’s offence was to have misgendered someone. She had previously been locked out for what Twitter considered transphobic tweets (e.g., “males can’t become female”). In February, she sued Twitter over its rule against misgendering trans people. More and more, social media is putting people into Facebook jail, shutting down their Twitter accounts, removing their YouTubes if they show signs of being too conservative or – especially – offending some “oppressed” group. This is book-burning by another name. “Lawfare” is also used to silence anyone who might be tempted to express an offensive opinion.

In the name of human rights and anti-fascism (or anti-whatever), we are increasingly being subjected to totalitarian censorship. Our universities are ground zero for this sort of thinking. “No freedom for hate speech” said a protest sign at an anti-Jordan Peterson demonstration at Queen’s University on March 5, 2018. As Bradley Campbell says in the title of his article describing the “victimhood culture” on US campuses, “The free speech crisis on campus is worse than people think.” In this regard, Jordan Peterson’s enormous popularity is an encouraging sign of a growing rejection of this mentality.

The elimination of blasphemy laws in the West protects our freedom of speech from the tyranny of religion. We don’t have to worry about legal consequences for what we say about god – at least the Jewish or Christian god. Let’s not allow the tyranny of religion to be replaced with the tyranny of “the oppressed.” No one has a right to demand that their beliefs or religion never be offended or that a secular society should go out of its way to accommodate them. But that is exactly what is happening in some of our institutions and on social media. It bodes ill for our freedoms.

– Madeline Weld