No more free speech

I have just updated the blog header, and also the About page, to remove the references to my interest in freedom of speech online.  Old posts on the subject will remain, but I have no plans to post more on this subject.

I grew up in times in which you could express pretty much any political or religious opinion that you pleased, so long as it wasn’t indecent or calculated to insult those who were with.  A man full of wine might express himself particularly strongly; and the worst he might hear would be “It’s a free country”.  When the internet came along, people like ourselves found ourselves able to say whatever we wished to people anywhere in the world.  There was much abuse; but nothing worse than trolling.

Those days are gone.  In the US the constitution still offers much protection from legal action, but extra-legal intimidation  is rampant, designed to deprive political opponents of the means to feed their families.  In the UK police forces boast how they scan social media for opinions, and the same US-style intimidation is also in effect here.  On the continent prosecutions for opinion have never ceased, as the political elite increasingly grow out of touch with their peoples.  These are sad times.

Increasingly I see a trend whereby the powerful deny free speech to their political opponents.  I see companies being advised to Google for job candidates, in case they are “unsafe”.  Those who still dare to protest are almost all of one political complexion, and that not the one in power.  To protest is increasingly presented, cynically, as a party statement.

Bluntly, free speech, of the kind that we all remember from 15 years ago, has vanished.  Prudent people must comport themselves accordingly.

Let us hope for better days.

“Freedom of speech is not something to be awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought undeserving’ – judge

Another valuable article appears today in the Daily Mail.  The context is a curious system of secret ‘family’ courts who take children from families but may not be reported by the press.  This evil seems peculiar to Britain, and the details may be read in the article.   The new judge in charge of the system, Sir James Munby, is reforming the system.

But Sir James went on to make a number of statements which deserve much wider notice.

As part of a ruling against secrecy in the  family courts, Sir James declared: ‘Freedom of speech is not something to be  awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought  undeserving’.


Sir James, who is president of the Family  Division of the High Court, said the Press was necessary to ensure scrutiny of  the courts and that occasional bad behaviour by some journalists had to be  tolerated.

If Press criticism ‘exceeds what is lawful’  there are already laws to deal with that.

‘It is not the role of the judge to seek to  exercise any kind of editorial control over the manner in which the media  reports information which it is entitled to publish,’ he said. ‘Comment and  criticism may be ill informed and based on misunderstanding or misrepresentation  of the facts.

‘The fear of such criticism, however  justified the fear may be, is, however, not of itself a justification for prior  restraint by injunction.’

He also stood up for the rights of tabloid  newspapers to express criticism in ‘intemperate language’.

‘If there is no basis for injuncting a story  expressed in the temperate or scholarly language of a legal periodical or the  broadsheet press, there can be no basis for injuncting the same story simply  because it is expressed in the more robust, colourful or intemperate language of  the tabloid press or even in language which is crude, insulting and  vulgar.

‘The publicist … may be an unprincipled  charlatan seeking to manipulate public opinion by feeding it tendentious  accounts of the proceedings. But freedom of speech is not something to be  awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought  undeserving.’

Unlike Lord Leveson, he emphasised the  ‘enormous challenges’ posed by the internet ‘The law must develop and adapt,  as it always has done down the years in response to other revolutionary  technologies.’

Privacy law, developed by judges and based on  the Human Rights Act, has encouraged increasing numbers of celebrities to apply  for injunctions concealing embarrassing stories about themselves.

I think that the point about intemperate language is important.   Powerful pressure groups have arranged for “anti-hate” laws to be published.  These have the effect of making it dangerous to criticise those groups, and very dangerous to do so in an unguarded way.  The judge is right to point out that this is nonsense.

Let us hope that this is the first signs of a new and more liberal approach to free speech in Britain.

There is, however, some way to go.  At the foot of the article we find the words: “Sorry we are unable to accept comments for legal reasons.”

I can think of no good reason why we, the public, should be unable to comment on this subject.

The evil bishop, the evil Pope, and the satire of Erasmus on such creatures

I mentioned a little while ago how a Canadian episcopal bishop named Michael Bird, fervent in promoting non-Christian causes such as homosexuality in his unfortunate church, zealous in suing his congregations for daring to disapprove, seizing their property and closing the doors, is now suing a blogger who dared to criticise and satirise him, the Anglican Samizdat blog.  Few will endorse attempts by bishops to silence bloggers.  Sadly we live in an era when bishops endorse vice and harass virtue.

This evening I was browsing Anthony Grafton’s Forgers and Critics, and found mention of a work by Erasmus, Julius Excluded From Heaven.  An English translation is online here.

Pope Julius II was not a respectable person.  He was the kind of self-serving scoundrel who ignores the interests of the church he heads, instead concentrating on increasing his own wealth and power.  Such ‘Popes’ were the direct cause of the Reformation.

Erasmus’ witty remarks will strike more than a few as apposite for Bishop Michael Bird, since he seems to keen on turning churches into money and silencing critics by litigation.  Indeed they will apply, to a greater or lesser extent, to every worldly prelate.  Here are a couple of snippets:

PETER: Fine! but let’s go back a ways: you are the nephew of Sixtus.
JULIUS: Glad to confirm it; I’d like to stop the mouths of those who say I’m his son. That’s slanderous.
PETER: Slanderous indeed-unless perhaps it’s true.
JULIUS: It’s an insult to papal dignity, which must always be protected.
PETER: But I think popes should protect their own dignity by not doing anything offensive to the moral law.


PETER: So the court of Rome is to be, as it were, the treasure chest of the whole world?
JULIUS: Is it such a great matter if we collect all their carnal wealth, seeing we spread our spiritual gifts far and wide?
PETER: What spiritual gifts are you talking about? Up to now I’ve heard only about worldly things. No doubt you attract men to Christ by preaching his holy word?
JULIUS: There are people who preach it, and I don’t prevent them, as long as they don’t in any way question my authority.

The litigious bishop is always a figure of fun.  Perhaps we need a  new Erasmus!

Anglican church of Canada bishop Michael Bird uses church funds (?) to sue blogger for “defamation”

UPDATED: I learn that it is not clear whether Bishop Bird is actually using church funds to do this.  I suspect that he is, since few people can afford such vanity cases personally, but I do not actually know this for a fact.

Anglican Samizdat blog is being sued.  The pretence is defamation, but the object is to drive it offline:

On February 19th 2008, the Diocese of Niagara served St. Hilda’s with legal papers with the intention of taking possession of St. Hilda’s building and freezing our bank account.

On February 19th 2013, exactly five years later, I was served personally with a statement of claim for defamation of character from the Diocese of Niagara’s Bishop Michael Bird.

The claim is seeking:

  • $400,000 in damages plus court costs and their legal costs.
  • An interim and permanent injunction to shut down Anglican Samizdat.
  • An interim and permanent injunction prohibiting me from publishing further comments about Michael Bird.

The claim quotes – with sporadic accuracy – 31 blog postings that are alleged to be libellous.

Contrary to what one might expect in such circumstances, I did not receive a cease and desist letter in advance of the suit.

Initial negotiations for an early settlement have been unsuccessful.

I have filed a statement of defence, the pleadings are now closed and we have commenced the Discovery process.

The first question, of course, is what does the good bishop have to hide?  What does he not want known?  That, for instance, as soon as he gained possession he sold the rectory?  Sadly, I fear that the answer is that he knows very well that his actions towards St Hildas were immoral; and that they bring him into disrepute; and he would rather not face the opprobrium.  Yet … what kind of reputation will he get from launching lawsuits designed to silence critics?

It would be interesting to ask whether the charitable purposes for which the church exists include vexatious lawsuits designed to shield their officials from public scrutiny, if the church should turn out to be funding this.

Readers may wonder what the bishop did with the church that he seized from those who paid for it.   The following photograph of St Hildas will tell you.

And, yes, those concrete blocks were the good bishop’s contribution.

Press and web censorship to be introduced in Britain

It’s mildly unbelievable, but apparently it’s true.

The new regulation will cover “websites containing news-related material” apparently.  That means not only ones such as this, but the one run by your local parish council too.  And the one written by just about anyone with a blog.

We now live in a world in which millions of people publish things each day.  Yet the system of regulation being proposed seems a throwback to a time when only a few newspaper editors wrote “news-related material”.  What is your twitter feed, if not a stream of “news-related material”?

I grew up in a central African country run by various dictators who controlled the newspapers.  Perhaps that is why I find the idea of state regulation of the press in Britain so shocking.

A big part of me thinks that this is a disaster in the making.  A small part of me hopes these proposals go through so we can see the utter balls up that follows.

The measure is being called “regulation”.  Unfortunately it seems unlikely to be anything but censorship.

I do not see how it can avoid meaning that a committee of establishment types will censor the media to prevent the expression of any opinions that they object to.  Furthermore the honest reporting of any news that they do not wish reported honestly will be prevented.  This may surprise; but I remember how the mention that criminals were black, or Romanian, or whatever — and very frequently the culprits were immigrants — was banned, on the grounds that it was “inflammatory”.  So we must expect this same approach to become endemic.  Members of favoured groups who commit crimes will not be associated with that group; members of unfavoured groups, such as Catholics, will be used to smear the group in question.  Indeed this happens quite a lot already.  But now the websites that do report the facts will be shut down.

The “independent regulator” will be run by the same sorts of people who run the “independent” BBC.  The establishment already decide who runs the latter; who else will they choose for the former?  Yet the BBC news on teletext is already so grossly censored (courtesy of political correctness rather than threat of legal punishment) that some of the news items on it make very little sense as read.

We do need to name the guilty.  The pressure for this evil has come from the political left.  I would imagine that their motivation is to control the UK printed media (which, being purchased by the public, is mostly of the right).  The addition about blogs only came to notice in the last few days.

It does, of course, affect this blog too.  While I post as little as I can on political issues, I have felt obliged to post on free speech.  This act will affect what I can say.

Milton, thou should’st be living at this hour…[1]

  1. [1]

Islamic criminals take down Egyptology web sites: TPTB take no action.

I learn from Paleobabble that a particularly nasty bit of cyber-violence has been going on.  It seems that Moslem groups in Egypt have been running attacks on the Egyptology sites edited by Kate Phizackerly and others, notably the KV64 news blog, on discoveries in the Valley of the Kings, and their new project, the Egyptological magazine.  The sites have gone off-line.

On the former there is the message:

Following on from the problems at Egyptological I have taken the reluctant decision to close this blog as well for the foreseeable future.  Many thanks for your support over the years.

Mike adds:

As her words indicate, Kate was also one of the forces behind the online journal Egyptological, which was recently discontinued due to hacking efforts on the part of radicalized Islamic elements in Egypt. Apparently the KV64 blog was also incompatible with those elements. Another loss for free speech in Egypt.

Here I must disagreed with Mike.  There never was free speech in Egypt, except under British rule.  It was a despotism before that period, and ever since.  The issue is free speech online.  Free speech for us.  Here in the west.  Now.

A bunch of violent scumbags from the back-end of nowhere, who never have contributed in any way to the web, have successfully interfered with the scientific effort of the entire human race.  And our masters, The Powers That Be, who live very well on our taxes, they say … nothing.  It’s OK, apparently.  So next year, there will be more.

The selfish scum who did this care nothing about Egyptology, of course.  They only care about their own wishes, and whether they will get caught.  They’re criminals, in other words; because that more or less defines the word “criminal” and his activity.  These sorts of people are why we have policemen in real life, and why we need them.  Now they are doing their evil deeds online.

It seems to me that criminal activity on the web is now threatening all of us who contribute to it.  It is becoming very risky to contribute online under your own name.  The criminals will try to smear you online, and if possible damage your business thereby.  Cowardly employers will see the lies, and shy away.  Any of us can be harmed by this kind of thing.  What can we do?  I would discourage anyone from posting online under their own name.  But of course the malicious love to “reveal” identities that they themselves have forced people to hide.

We must all wish Kate and her team well.  They went the extra mile, they contributed, they helped others.  Well done, people!

UPDATE: I have just found the announcement about the attacks on Egyptological here.

Kate and Andrea are very sad to announce that Egyptological will be unavailable for the forseeable future.  It has been targeted by a professional hacking group as part of an onslaught on Egypt-related web sites during the current unrest in Egypt.

Although we have been in negotiations with the hackers, which seemed to be going well, they have now announced their intention of resuming hostilities against us.  They apparently see Egyptology sites such as ours as representing a form of political threat.

Until we have been able to assess the level of damage inflicted upon our backup solution, and have been able to devise a new strategy for the future security of Egyptological, our site will remain unavailable.  We do not expect it to be recovered until the end of January.

Please be aware, however, that we are fully committed to restoring Egyptological to its former state, together with the latest unpublished edition of the Magazine, and we are investigating the possibility of publishing a temporary archive at an earlier date.

We recommend that anyone with similar web sites should upgrade their own security arrangements, as you may now be interpreted as representing a political or religious affiliation.

Kind regards from both of us

Andrea Byrnes and Kate Phizackerley

Sadly they were unable to recover the situation.

UPDATE: A post has appeared from Drs Byrnes and Phizackerley here.  Evidently some people have been in touch to try to find out who the guilty parties are.  Drs B. and P., quite naturally, do not want to get involved.

There seem to be suggestions that Andrea and I know the affiliation of those who hacked us. We don’t and by policy I haven’t speculated. Part of the reason for my reticence is that some, although not all, of the hackers have been polite to us. In particular, at no point did the hackers claim association with any religion.

We are grateful for the offers of assistance, thank you. … I am however reluctant to  share any further details of what has happened with anybody to avoid  the risk of a third party politicising the issue.

By policy Egyptological was apolitical and respectful of all religions. If there is to be any future, we will retain those principles. And perhaps the times when principles matter most are in the face of adversity.

Someone should be able to work out precisely who the attackers are, and remove all doubt.  That would seem the first thing for the technically minded to determine.

It is, admittedly, extremely hard to think of any other group in the world likely to attack archaeological sites (in both senses of the word).  But of course I am entirely willing to learn different.  Who else could possibly do such a thing?

Silencing dissent in the modern world

It is extraordinary to me how something mad and evil, which was unheard of a couple of years ago, can suddenly become something which it is positively dangerous to oppose.  But so it is, in our unhappy world.  In this case I refer to “gay marriage”, but it could be any number of causes, where disagreement is suddenly dangerous to express.

I read today this blog post, which discusses how, in the USA, opposition to this cause is being silenced, by a “wall of hatred” technique.  It spells out particularly well, how dissent is silenced.

… it’s basically unprecedented for a professor to be formally investigated on a charge of scientific misconduct because a blogger didn’t like his findings. …

What is the purpose of his baseless charge?  I suspect it is twofold: first to get the university to let him conduct a fishing expedition through Prof. Regnerus’s personal correspondence to find anything that can be used to a.) tar this scholar and/or b.) harass others close to him, for being close to him.

Second, Rose hopes the hassle will discourage any other professor from investigating how children fare raised by gay parents, unless they can pretty much guarantee the results will be favorable to the Scott Rose’s of the world.

Marriage is important.  Religious liberty is important.  The structures of scientific inquiry are also important.

In a society that has lost faith in other modes of reasoning, science has become a trump card in public and moral debates.

Therefore, if you want to establish a new public morality, it becomes important to control the scientific processes to suppress dissent, to make dissent costly and therefore rare.

A culture war is a struggle over who has the power to name reality.

Celebrities, professionals and scholars are all now subjected to this dynamic: to oppose gay marriage is to be subjected to an outpouring of hatred and threats.

The goal is to silence.

It doesn’t matter what the cause is, although this one is particularly vile.  For we may be sure that the next one will be worse: the vileness is intentional, the purpose is to give offence, and then to force compliance.

It is not enough for evil that someone does what they want; they must be made to do it against their will.

Until we have some mechanism to push back against this technique of censorship, we may be sure that more, and worse will follow.

Free speech online gets less free … but who can blame them?

The abuse — in every sense — of anonymity online has driven another major website to ban anonymous “comments”.  YouTube has given in, and who can blame them?  H/t the Daily Mail:

YouTube puts an end to vicious, anonymous comments which have turned site into ‘Wild West’

YouTube is set to overhaul its comments system to curb the droves of online trolls writing nasty and anonymous messages.

Speaking at Google I/O, an annual developer’s conference held by YouTube’s owner, head of product Dror Shimshowitz leaked the news that the website is developing a new method to halt the abuse.

Mr Shimshowitz and Google declined to elaborate on the plans but many speculate it could be the end of anonymous rants and raves posted at the bottom of YouTube channels. …

YouTube’s comment section is notoriously nasty. Buzzfeed called its commentors the ‘worst on the internet,’ likening them to ‘the dregs, the scum, the poison.’

The comments are so bad, they have inspired a parody blog entitled ‘Stupid YouTube Comments‘ that collates the worst of the website.

Wired postulates that YouTube may ask users to include more information about themselves before posting a comment, getting rid of the anonymous anarchy of the comment chorus.

‘Many members use anonymous handles since YouTube, unlike other Google sites, allows people to create distinct accounts,’ Wired’s Ryan Tate writes.

‘As a general rule, people are far less likely to troll under their real name.’

 It’s a sad day, but the fact is that everyone is using the web these days, and that includes the criminal classes.  The latter may be defined as those who will do whatever they feel that they can get away with.  These scum don’t contribute anything; they merely harass those who do.

Which means that anonymity on the web is doomed.  And that is not a happy state of affairs.

The troll and the policeman — a natural connection?

There was a time when the police paid no attention to anything posted on the web.  In the United Kingdom, at least, that time is past.  Over the last few months I have seen a series of stories, where offline people have called for the police to arrest trolls.  Routinely, now, the police are acting.

This week we have been hearing about a certain Frank Zimmerman, a man of 60, who posted abuse of a Conservative MP, Louise Mensch, demanding that she stop using twitter or else: 

Zimmerman targeted Mensch following last summer’s riots when the MP suggested that sites such as Twitter ought to be closed down if the police thought it necessary. …

Addressing the Corby MP as the “slut of Twitter”, Zimmerman said: “We are Anonymous and we do not like rude cunts like you and your nouveau riche husband Peter Mensch. We are inside your computer, all your phones everywhere and inside your homes.

“So get off Twitter. We see you are still on Twitter. We have sent a camera crew to photograph you and your kids and we will post it over the net including Twitter, cuntface. You now have Sophie’s Choice: which kid is to go. One will. Count on it cunt. Have a nice day.”

Charming stuff, and doubtless anonymous, or so he thought: the police found otherwise.  The judge has said that “he could be imprisoned for up to six months”.

I have no opinions either way on Mrs Mensch.  The question is whether, in a free society, such speech should be punished by the courts. 

Zimmerman himself, of course, does NOT believe in free speech — his troll, of course, was composed to intimidate Louise Mensch from using Twitter.  Trolls engage in this kind of activity all the time, and Wikipedia trolls take great pleasure in getting rid of genuine contributors. 

The words are supposed to contain a death threat.  I admit that, in my innocence, the case would seem unproven.  The malice is unmistakable, of course; but I myself would have read that as a threat to post material about one of the children.  The jury found otherwise, of course.

It is old law that death threats are a criminal offence.  I admit that I see no reason to change this long-standing custom.  It is for this, certainly, that Zimmerman should be sentenced.

For the rest?  I’m not sure.

A troll is a vile creature.  His purpose is to injure others, usually from a position of anonymity.  He is no different, morally, from a man who visits a nightclub for the purpose of beating up some unsuspecting fellow who went there for a drink and a dance.  His methods are the misuse of modern communications to inflict pain, rather than his fists, but the pain is equally real, and the victim may well be even less able to defend himself, as many trolls, like bullies everywhere, blame the victim if he complains of assault. 

Law in the United Kingdom is increasingly unsympathetic to trolls.  Today I read of a legal first, where the victim has won a High Court action to force Facebook to reveal the identities of her tormentors.

Nicola Brookes, 45, was targeted by internet trolls after posting message of support for X-Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza

The mother, who doesn’t even watch X-Factor, wrote message supporting singer on his official Facebook page after her daughter showed her his page

Abusers created fake profile with her picture and posted sick messages to lure young girls

The single mother is the first person ever to bring a court case privately to track down those who abused her

She was forced to take action after police refused to intervene

Despite the abuse, Nicola is STILL on Facebook

Not being a Conservative MP, Nicola Brookes was obliged to undertake a private prosecution.  Sussex Police were unsure that any crime had been committed, and who can blame them?  The situation is indeed profoundly unclear.  But the victim certainly suffered injury.  This was internet violence; the false accusation designed to defame.

The action has all sorts of interesting consequences from a free speech point of view:

Ms Bains, a partner at Bains Cohen, the legal firm which is bringing the action, said: ‘The police do have the ability and the resources to find out who is responsible for this type of abuse.

‘The order that was granted from the High Court was called a Norwich Pharmacal Order which is a disclosure order compelling Facebook to give us whatever information they have.

‘We don’t know how useful that information is going to be until we have it.

‘It may turn out to be fake. If that’s the case, it will be the internet service providers (ISPs) who will be most useful to us because they will hold the bill-payers’ addresses and we will have to get a further order.’

None will blame Mrs Brookes.  But what we see here is that criminals — for these trolls are certainly criminals in their behaviour and attitudes, whether or not their actions are technically illegal — are forcing the state to create the means to regulate what appears online.  The state never had that power.  Soon it will.  The troll, as ever, is a curse on the web.

A BBC article states bluntly:

There are growing demands for action over internet “trolling”.

BBC presenter Richard Bacon states:

 I’ve spent three months immersed in the world of cyberbullying and internet “trolling”. Recently there has been a massive explosion of it. …

As I delved deeper, it turned out that the level of vitriol I was receiving was mild by comparison with what hundreds, probably thousands, of people around the UK are subjected to daily. Hourly.

Imagine you’re the parent of a child who has died in tragic circumstances and you’re reading a tribute site dedicated to their memory. Underneath the comments from friends and acquaintances, you stumble upon graphic, violent and sexual abuse from people writing under pretend names. People who their deceased child never even knew.

This sort of article is creating the climate for more official action.  A further BBC article links it to cyber-bullying — correctly — and mentions suicides of victims.  The link is real.  For internet sites such as Facebook and Wikipedia set out to be compelling; the troll takes advantage of this to keep pummelling his victim, knowing that he or she will keep coming back for another punch, like one addicted. 

On Wikipedia, indeed, searching for victims who have returned and adopted a new user name (and then banning them for “sock-puppeting”) is part of the sport for the trolls.  The jeering at those who are unable to stay away is sickening, when you realise what it must mean in terms of the victim’s pain and addiction.

I’ve been on the web since 1997.  It is certainly true that the web today is a much nastier place than it was.  The “trolling” that took place in usenet news groups back in those days was malicious too, but it did not have the nastiness that I see everywhere today.  I would agree that the last few years have seen a huge upsurge in this kind of thing.

Anonymity must take responsibility for much of this.  People post what they would never say in person, or under their own name.

Yet … there is a real risk that, in dealing with these scum, we will all lose something.  I have nothing against Mrs Mensch, but I don’t see any reason why — death threats aside — those who dislike her shouldn’t call her names.  Our politicians do not deserve overmuch respect, nor our journalists, and both are well-equipped with lawyers and policemen.  Few ordinary people could get much redress, if such abuse was delivered to our very faces. 

But we, the people, the taxpayer and voter, do deserve some respect, and the right of the people to abuse a politician is also a long-standing one.  It is not so very long ago that candidates in Scottish elections were accustomed to being spat at, during hustings, with the consequence that both candidates were likely to end the day covered in spittle.[1] 

Anyone who has suffered at the hands of a troll will cheer as these individuals are brought, blinking, out into the light and sentenced.  Yet there is a risk that, in dealing with these vermin, all of our liberties will be compromised.  I do not much relish the idea that bloggers must think about policemen and libel actions in the way that newspapers must.  But where the line may be drawn I cannot say.

  1. [1] Augustine Birrell refers to this charmless custom somewhere in his works, but I do not have a reference immediately to hand.

An important victory for free speech in Canada

We used to talk about politics, back in the 70’s, at school.  And sometimes we didn’t agree.  Sometimes someone would say something outrageous.  And it might earn the commonplace response, “It’s a free country”, with the understood corollary that anyone might say what they thought.

It’s a saying that you never hear today.  Because in many countries the political establishment has quietly taken away the right to free speech.  An ever-lengthening list of causes and favoured groups may only be criticised by those willing to risk prosecution for “hate speech”, to be dragged through the courts and harassed endlessly. 

Often this process of intimidation has been carried out by so-called “human rights” bodies.  Usually they have selected as their victims men who are poor, isolated, with few resources.  The purpose is to create case law, not to uphold law, and who better to victimise as “haters” than people who can’t afford lawyers?

In Canada the blogger Ezra Levant was attacked by one such evil organisation, and harassed for almost two years, at enormous expense to himself.  But the attack was a mistake; for Levant was a well-connected man, a publisher, and well able to take care of himself.

Today I read in the National Post that justice has finally been done: the enabling legislation for these thought-crime prosecutions is being repealed:

For decades, Canadians had meekly submitted to a system of administrative law that potentially made de facto criminals out of anyone with politically incorrect views about women, gays, or racial and religious minority groups. All that was required was a complainant (often someone with professional ties to the CHRC itself) willing to sign his name to a piece of paper, claim he was offended, and then collect his cash winnings at the end of the process. The system was bogus and corrupt. But very few Canadians wanted to be seen as posturing against policies that were branded under the aegis of “human rights.”

On Wednesday, the federal Conservatives voted to repeal it on a largely party-line vote — by a margin of 153 to 136 — through a private member’s bill introduced by Alberta Conservative MP Brian Storseth. Following royal assent, and a one-year phase-in period, Section 13 will be history.  ….

Till the middle part of the last decade, the Canadian punditariat was dominated by professional columnists who were socially, ideologically, and sometimes professionally, beholden to the academics, politicians, and old-school activists (from Jewish groups, in particular) who’d championed the human-rights industry since its inception in the 1960s. But in the latter years of Liberal governance, a vigorous network of right-wing bloggers, led by Ezra Levant, began publicizing the worst abuses of human-rights mandarins, including the aforementioned Dean Steacy. In absolute numbers, the readership of their blogs was small at first. But their existence had the critical function of building up a sense of civil society among anti-speech-code activists, who gradually pulled the mainstream media along with them. In this sense, Mr. Levant deserves to be recognized as one of the most influential activists in modern Canadian history.

The battle against human-rights speech codes is far from won: The worst cases of censorship, such as the muzzling of Christians who proselytize texts that contain anti-gay themes, occur at the provincial level. Yet the tide clearly has turned: The Canadian Human Rights Commission received only three hate speech complaints since 2009, two of which were dismissed. And at the provincial level, bureaucrats know that any censorious verdict they deliver instantly will be pounced upon by Mr. Levant and his blogging allies (including some at this newspaper), and thereby become a lightning rod for legislative reform.

This is not the only straw in the wind.  In Britain opposition to a similarly evil piece of legislation has been crystallising in the last few months.  The Public Order Act of 1986 contains a section (section 5) which has allowed the police to arrest and “question” people for their opinions.

The Public Order Act rightly makes it a criminal offence to behave in a manner which is threatening, disorderly, abusive, or which constitutes harassment. However, section 5 of the Act also makes it an offence to use words which anyone within earshot might find ‘insulting’.

This is a step too far, and it has had troubling consequences.

When an Oxford University student out celebrating the end of his exams asked a policeman ‘Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?’ it should have been ignored as a daft comment. Instead police first tried to fine the student £80, then locked him up overnight and took him to court after he refused to pay. Eventually prosecutors dropped the case, having wasted plenty of taxpayers’ money in the process.

After a 16-year-old from Newcastle said ‘woof’ to a labrador within earshot of police officers, he was hauled in front of magistrates and fined £200, a decision later overturned by a jury.

City of London police charged a teenager under section 5 for demonstrating with a placard bearing the word ‘cult’ outside the Church of Scientology’s UK headquarters.

A street preacher armed with a placard proclaiming the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality was fined £700, a move condemned by world-renowned gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell as ‘an outrageous assault on civil liberties’.

These are just a few of the growing list of examples where the law against using ‘insulting’ language has led to heavy-handed action by police and prosecutors. It is not only distressing for the individuals concerned, it constitutes a threat to Britain’s tradition of free speech. …

So what should we do about it?

The solution is simple; the law needs to change. The word ‘insulting’ should be removed from section 5 of the Public Order Act. This would provide proportionate protection to individuals’ right to free speech, whilst continuing to protect people from threatening or abusive speech.

Support for amending section 5 comes from a large number of MPs and peers, along with groups as diverse as the Christian Institute and National Secular Society, and human rights organisations Liberty, Justice and The Peter Tatchell Foundation. MPs from all parties recently called for the Freedom Act (passed two weeks ago) to be amended to this effect, only to be thwarted when the amendment was not called.

The article does not say so, but the legislation has been used several times — I have no confidence that I would know of all occurrences — by gay rights activists to attack Christian street preachers.  The approach taken by these agents provocateurs has been to demand whether the preacher agrees with the bible that homosexuality is a sin, and, when he says he does, find a policeman and denounce the preacher under section 5.  The legislation is so vaguely worded — in order to allow the police freedom of action — that it can be used by all sorts of people, and has been.  I suspect that we owe this campaign in Britain to the Moslems who arranged for some gay rights activists to be arrested for “offending” the Moslems.  Once the biter is bit, he looks for ways to prevent it!

But it is good to see the tide starting to turn.  In 20 years people will marvel that such a stain came over the free world.  Well done Canada.

UPDATE: Journalist Mark Steyn, another victim of the thought police, also celebrates

You don’t generally get to pick your battles, and, if you’d asked me circa 2007 if I wanted to spend much of the next half-decade battling for the restoration of freedom of speech in Canada and elsewhere, I’d probably have decamped to the South Sandwich Islands. But then the Canadian Islamic Congress and their statist enablers in the “human rights” racket attempted to impose a de facto lifetime publication ban on me, and so I found myself conscripted to the cause.

It’s been a long, slow process, but the victories have been real. Section 13 of the Canadian “Human Rights” Code has as a practical matter been rendered unenforceable. It’s now about to be removed from the law formally. It passed its third reading in the House of Commons, which means it only requires a vote in the Senate and Royal Assent (yes, yes, calm down, Kevin Williamson et al), and it’s history.

But he points out that those who created this evil are not dead, as one of them pops up and demands the power to censor those he disagrees with.  Mark’s response is robust:

Clear off, you twerp. I don’t want the state to have a “mandate” to “educate” the citizenry about their thought-crimes. Even if I did not object on principle, one thing I’ve learned during this five-year campaign is that the statist hacks Canada’s official opposition is so eager to empower are, almost to a man, woman and pre-op transsexual, either too stupid or bullying to be entrusted with the task.