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I joined the throng of supporters around Mark Steyn as he left Queen's Park after giving his statement to the Provincial Standing Committee for Government Agencies, and asked him a few questions about the testimony he'd just given, and the reaction he thought he had gotten from the MPPs in the room. He answered my questions as we walked down Queen's Park Circle and along College Street, with an optimism that surprised me after the generally hostile reception he'd just gotten from the Committee.


Mark SteynRMc:  How did that go?

STEYN: "I enjoyed it. I don't know how much good it does in the great scheme of things, but I'm always happy to talk to political representatives of all parties because I don't think this should be a party thing. It's not a right/left thing, it's not a conservative/liberal thing, it's a free/unfree thing, and that's what these guys don't always seem to appreciate."

Terry Downey, the person who came in front of the committee next, accused you of basically trying to deny her free speech. After she finished her statement, Cheri Di Novo was the first to ask a question, and basically said 'Thank you for that, I agree with everything you said.'"

"Well I don't. I'm happy for Barbara Hall, I'm happy for Terry Downey to say what they want. As I said, I couldn't make it any clearer - if you don't believe in free speech for people you loathe, you don't believe in free speech at all. I don't actually loathe Terry Downey, or Barbara Hall. In fact the more they speak the more good it does. I'm in favour of all kinds of speech, particularly neo-Marxist claptrap which, on the whole, generally exposes these people to ridicule. So I have no interest in restricting Terry Downey's freedom of speech."

Randy Hillier tried to ask a question - or tried to but ran out of time - where he attempted to get Downey to explain the difference between civil rights and human rights. Neither of them were able to get to a point where they were able to finish a question or answer it. Why do you think they feel a need to parse it out - civil rights versus human rights? What's the problem, where there seems to be an oil and water division between the two?

"I think because the term human rights has been abused by the left, and has in fact become a tool of social engineering. It's very interesting to me - in the Brockie decision, Heather McNaughton, who was our judge in Vancouver, said that she was balancing Mr. Brockie's rights, individual rights, with an identified societal goal, by which she meant the ending of discrmination against gays and lesbians."

"It's interesting that she was so confident that the ending of discriminiation against gays and lesbians was apparently this great social priority that overrode Scott Brockie's  rights, because I don't think that, at that time, the majority of Canadian people had given the matter any thought, had expressed that thought during elections. I don't think any party had run on it - it's just somehow that the thought had just popped up in the human rights establishment, and 20 minutes later it was being used to override individual rights."

"Essentially what she identified as a social priority was something that she and her pals had happened to agree on. And that's the difficulty you have when you talk about human rights these days, is that the term has been abused essentially for a form of social engineering."

The 'fire in the crowded theatre' metaphor; I think you were quite right to point out that this is a metaphor. There's this tendency in public discourse to use metaphors which reduce the argument to something that no one can agree on...

"For a start it's lazy. When somebody talks in a metaphor, you want them to have thought through that metaphor. Most people don't go to the theatre, and if you listen to people say 'Oh, you have no right to shout fire in a crowded theatre!' you think, my God - what's it called here, the Princess Alexandra? - that place must be a tinderbox! 'They've got Cats this weekend, but I couldn't possibly risk going there - the place could go up any minute!'"

"It's ridiculous - it's an electrified theatre, it's perfectly safe. This was an out of date metaphor at the time that Oliver Wendell Holmes used it, and he used it to argue for the state's right to clamp down on anti-war protesters. With all due respect to the Liberal Member of Parliament, I don't think he has any idea of what the metaphor was intended as."

It is the one that's most used, which is why he used it. As soon as he opened his mouth I thought, 'Oh no, here comes the fire in the crowded theatre - once again.' Do you think we're basically screaming across a gulf here? The testimony I heard after yours basically sounded like two people describing the same object in completely different terms.

"That's the thing, if you're going to be restricting people's rights, the theatre has to be in danger of burning down. It's an insulting metaphor to start because it presupposes that people are a great thundering, stupid herd. That is you just say something to them and they'll just go 'Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!' and just stampede off in every direction. So I don't agree with it on that basis. I think you should set a very high bar for restricting liberty, and I object to the way that restricting freedom comes so easily to the bureaucracy and to the people to whom they're accountable, which is elected legislators."

"As I say it's horrible that Ontario, which is one of the oldest settled democratic societies in the world, should have to relearn lessons that brave people fought hard for three and four hundred years ago. The fire in a crowded theatre thing - Pitt the Younger said that necessity is always the given justification for the elimination of freedom. He got it two hundred years ago. How come his heirs and successors, who've had two centuries of success and liberty thanks to people like him, just don't get it? It's a horrible thing to see."

©2009 Rick McGinnis all rights reserved

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