Doing the Needful: Defending the Hateful

collinsBlitz Magazine, May 1999

Doug Collins just won’t go away. Collins is the (retired, thankfully) North Shore News columnist who is famous for his ridiculously right-wing positions—he’s a ‘new Canadian’ who constantly rails against immigration; he believes that the Auschwitz photographs were propaganda. On and on goes a never-ending stream of vitriol, a bilious spew which the paper’s editor, Tim Renshaw, appears to be unable, or unwilling, to stem.

When I was the North Shore News’ social columnist, I was often criticized—and, twice, banned from events—because I worked for the same paper that employed him (in a creepily stalwart and loyal manner, I might add).

Now that he’s hung up his dripping spike, I see Collins only at the dog park, where it seems that even the dogs move a little faster to pass this grim, angry guy.

In 1993, changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act included newspapers and other publications in the Act’s provisions. Those amendments, now embodied in the Human Rights Code, prohibit the publication of any statement that ‘indicates’ discrimination, or is ‘likely’ to expose a person, or group, or class of persons, to hatred or contempt.

In 1994, Collins wrote four columns to which a Jewish man objected. The man filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. In February, a tribunal found Collins guilty of violating the BC Human Rights Code. He was ordered to pay the complainant $2000., and the North Shore News was ordered to cease publishing statements that ‘expose, or are likely to expose, Jewish persons to hatred or contempt.’

In April, Collins filed an appeal of this decision with the BC Supreme Court. He objects to the tribunal’s determination that it has a mandate to decide the appropriateness of a newspaper column, and that it can dictate the newspaper’s content. He is challenging the Human Rights Code, claiming that it infringes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that it ‘is not a reasonable limit prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.’

No one wants to side with Doug Collins, but we are all now in the position of having to support his argument.

Journalists, through their presentation of factual information and their statements of opinion, are supposed to expose people, or groups of people, to contempt or hatred. Pedophiles, rapists, skinheads, ‘freedom fighters’, serial killers, crooked politicians—all need to be exposed to, at least, contempt. As a society, we need that exposure to take place. And, in a free society, we can’t have some tribunal (even the word is repellant) telling journalists that they must be selective in their reportage or statement of opinion—that it’s OK to not flatter, or to damage, the position of one group, but not another.

I have not read the offending columns. I read one hate-filled columns years ago and have not since read anything written by Doug Collins. But the courts have to grant that the public is capable of that same discrimination; that people have the ability to know, or learn, what is credible and what is nonsense. The courts have to provide protection for that nonsense. If they don’t, the credible—the essential—will be unprotected. As will we all.

 

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