Canada's First Big Test of Freedom of Press

Article excerpt

Doug Collins is a self-proclaimed "politically incorrect" septuagenarian Vancouver columnist who takes pride in being one of Canada's most controversial newspaper writers. Critics call him a bigot.

His favorite topics include: Hitler killed far fewer than 6 million Jews; immigrants are ruining Canada; and homosexuals bring AIDS on themselves. Mr. Collins has written such inflammatory stuff for years.

But last week, the Human Rights Commission of British Columbia, a government arm, ordered Collins and the newspaper that prints his column to appear before a tribunal on charges of printing a "discriminatory publication" exposing Jews to hatred. It is the first time in Canadian history that a newspaper stands to be heavily fined for publishing a columnist's opinions - and it will likely be the first big test of Canada's constitutional protection of press freedoms. Some say Collins may be Canada's version of Larry Flynt, the American pornography publisher whose fight to publish unhindered went to the United States Supreme Court. Flynt won. But Collins's case is far less certain. Canada's experiment with legally "guaranteed" freedom of expression is still young. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, akin to the US Bill of Rights, goes back only to 1982. In Canada the press does not enjoy the same latitude accorded the press in the US. Canada's criminal code bars "hate speech" that is typically tolerated in the US under First Amendment provisions. Bernie Farber, spokesman for the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), which filed the complaint against Collins, says Canada is correctly walking a careful line between free speech and the rights of groups and individuals. "In Canada there isn't complete freedom of speech, and newspaper reporters are as responsible for their speech and writing as any other Canadian citizen," he says. Alan Borovoy, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in Toronto, questions the tactic. …