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Bernie Farber: the Internet "must be tamed"

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On August 24, 2006, Canada's telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, rejected an ex parte application by Richard Warman and Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress to censor foreign websites, by blocking Canadian Internet users from accessing them. It was an attempt to replicate the Orwellian "Great Firewall of China" that the Chinese Communist Party uses to stop politically incorrect websites from reaching that country. I wrote about this unsuccessful but terrifying assault on our freedom here.

The CRTC's rejection of censorship was polite but clear: such a radical infringement of the rights of Internet users, and such unprecedented government regulation of the content of communications, was not something that could be done in a quick, private legal application. If it were to be done at all, it would need to be a big public discussion, including all stakeholders.

Needless to say, a transparent, public discussion of censorship isn't exactly Warman's style. So, some two months after the CRTC had given Warman and the CJC the bum's rush, the CJC approached Warman's old employer, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a group that likes to operate without the hassle of public accountability.

Here's a letter from the CJC to Harvey Goldberg, the chief of section 13 thought crimes investigations over at the CHRC. It's dated November 1, 2006 -- barely two months after the CRTC's decision.

The letter is pretty clear: the CJC wanted the CHRC to find other ways to "provide ISP's [Internet service providers] with the motivation and the ability" to block foreign sites. That is, to do exactly what the CRTC -- and section 36 of the Telecommunication Act -- forbids them to do: tamper with content on the Internet.

There's an element of lawlessness here. The Act specifically states that "a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public", and the CRTC confirmed that, yet the CJC wants to proceed in the face of those rules. So, naturally, the CHRC would be the perfect agency to help skirt those rules -- they've shown quite often that they don't give a tinker's damn about the rule of law.

But if the CRTC won't do it, what does the CJC have in mind? And what do they mean by giving ISP's the "motivation" to do what their own customers and the law won't abide?

The answer is hinted at in the CHRC's "strategic initiatives" outlined on this page of their website. There is a lot of government-as-nanny talk here that would offend most Internet users, but one of the "initiatives" proposed stands out: Canada's existing Internet "hotline",

Cybertip isn't about censoring politically incorrect thought crimes. It's about blocking child abuse and child pornography sites. Child exploitation isn't a thought crime, it's a real crime. But to the CHRC, Cybertip is their loophole to get past the nasty CRTC with all of their rules and procedures.

Cybertip doesn't play police themselves -- they pass tips of child abuse on to real police who take action. In six years, that has meant 32 arrests. But the CHRC isn't interested in passing anything on to the police, who are bound by all sorts of rules, like the Criminal Code, real trials, and innocence until guilt is proven. Cybertip blocks websites because those websites are part of the crime of child exploitation. But the CHRC is only interested in the final result that Cybertip can achieve: blocking websites. There is no crime being committed by the CHRC's enemies.

Bernie Farber and Len Rudner of the CJC have both written to the CHRC, encouraging them to do an end-run around the CRTC, and to set up a political Cybertip site. Here is an appalling couple of letters to this effect. Look at the second paragraph of Farber's letter:

Indeed, CJC, more [than] 10 years ago, observed that the internet might have the appearance of a wild frontier, but that it could be -- and must be -- tamed.

Oh, really? I know that throttling dissenting views is Farber's personal fetish. But does anyone at the CJC -- or its funders -- know the kind of things this man writes? Do the two figurehead presidents, Reuven Bulka and Sylvain Abitbol? What do they think of Farber's dream of "taming" the Internet?

We will of course not be satisfied until the number of "Canadian [hate] sites" has been reduced to zero, but the work is well underway.

Well, we know the kind of sites that the CHRC considers to be "hate sites". They investigated Free Dominion, a mainstream conservative site. Maclean's magazine's website was specifically named in a section 13 "hate site" complaint to the CHRC. And the Western Standard magazine itself was hit with an Alberta HRC complaint for publishing the Danish cartoons. But Farber and the CJC won't be satisfied until they're gone.

Section 13 trials at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal are bad enough. They are kangaroo courts, with countless flaws. But at least there is some process, and it is usually open to the public. Cybertip doesn't have a tribunal; they don't have document disclosure or hearings or stenographers. I'm pretty comfortable with that lack of due process when it comes to child exploitation. But I'd be terrified if there was a political Cybertip, with the likes of Dean "freedom of speech is an American concept so I don't give it any value" Steacy making the decisions in private, with Richard Warman there to stir up a constant supply of complaints. 

I doubt that the subject of the CJC/CHRC's desire to get Cybertip to start hunting and blocking websites with politically incorrect speech will come up in Tuesday's hearing in Ottawa, but it might. The CHRC's Goldberg -- who Farber claims "believes that this concept has merit" will be on the stand, in addition to Dean Steacy and Hannya Rizk. It's one thing for a nut like Farber to want to crush dissent -- he works for a special interest lobby group. But Goldberg works for a government agency. Does he share Farber's dark vision of censorship?

When the rotting, lawless CHRC is finally brought to heel -- and I believe that day will come, perhaps as soon as this year -- their desire to block what you and I read, and their disgusting proposal to compare politically incorrect ideas with child abuse, should be held up for all Canadians to see, as yet one more reason to shut down these careening threats to our freedoms. 

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ezra Levant published on March 21, 2008 10:29 PM.

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