CAJ demands end to tribunals' interference in free press

    OTTAWA, Oct. 16 /CNW/ - The Canadian Association of Journalists says it's
time for human rights tribunals to stop the anti-democratic practice of
investigating journalists for doing their jobs.
    Yet another complaint against the media, this time involving Maclean's
magazine, was dismissed late last week by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The
CAJ, however, maintains the process is an affront to freedom of speech and the
press in this country.
    "This decision does nothing to solve the real problem, which is that such
tribunals shouldn't be taking on these cases in the first place," said CAJ
president Mary Agnes Welch.
    "Tomorrow, someone else unhappy with what they've read somewhere can
lodge another complaint with these human rights bodies and start another
time-consuming, expensive, bureaucratic process that, in the end, serves to
chill freedom of expression."
    "Since the state picks up the tab for investigating such complaints, and
for any hearings held to discuss them, there is no cost to the complainant,"
she said. "Those accused, however, must pay to defend themselves. As a result,
the fear of being embroiled in a human rights complaint may influence some
writers and publications to censor themselves," said Welch.
    Government-appointed human rights bodies are also not bound by strict
rules of evidence found in a court of law, unlike cases involving the
legitimate curbs on free speech found in the Criminal Code, such as libel and
hate speech.
    In the B.C. case, the tribunal was ruling on an article by Mark Steyn
published in Maclean's in October, 2006 that discussed Islam, demographics and
falling birth rates in the West.
    "The idea that it's okay for these bureaucrats to sit in judgement of
what should and should not be printed in a Canadian magazine is deeply
offensive," said Welch. "We renew our calls for politicians to act to amend
human rights legislation to end these witch hunts."
    Last winter, the CAJ sharply criticized the dangers of allowing
state-backed agencies the ability to censor speech based on subjective
perceptions of offensiveness. Maclean's magazine and Ezra Levant, who faced
two complaints in Alberta for his decision to publish the Danish cartoons of
the Islamic prophet Muhammad, have prevailed in recent decisions. Both,
however, have had to pay significant legal expenses to defend themselves.
    The CAJ intervened in the B.C. case against Maclean's. The CAJ was
represented in the case by Vancouver media lawyer Jason Gratl.

    The CAJ is Canada's largest professional organization for journalists
from all media, with about 1,400 members across Canada. The CAJ's primary
roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and
public-interest advocacy.

For further information:

For further information: Paul Schneidereit, CAJ past president, (902)
426-2811 No. 1124; Mary Agnes Welch, CAJ president, (204) 797-5049; John
Dickins, CAJ executive director, (613) 526-8061

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