THE MARK STEYN INTERVIEW
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.
How did that go?
STEYN: "I enjoyed it. I don't know how
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
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."
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
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."
in the crowded theatre' metaphor; I think you were quite right to
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
"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
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
"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 -
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
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