A hearing into a human rights complaint alleging a Maclean's magazine article spread hatred against Muslims began in Vancouver on Monday.
Mohamed Elmasry and Naiyer Habib of the Canadian Islamic Congress complained to the Canadian, Ontario and B.C. human rights authorities after the Toronto-based magazine published the article, titled The future belongs to Islam, in October of 2006.
The article, an excerpt of a book authored by Mark Steyn, talks about Islam being a threat to North American institutions and values. It used statistics to show higher birth rates plus immigration mean Muslims will outnumber followers of other religions in Western Europe.
Habib claimed the article violated the B.C. Human Rights Code by subjecting him to discrimination based on his religion and exposing him to hatred.
"We know under the Supreme Court of Canada [and] under tribunals of this country that there are reasonable limits [to the freedom of expression]," Faisal Joseph, Habib's lawyer, said on Monday.
"There is nothing wrong with Mr. Steyn expressing his view as long as he does not cross the line with respect to Section 7-1 of the British Columbia Act."
Section 7-1 deals with discriminatory publication. It stipulates that a person must not publish or cause to be published anything that discriminates against a person or group, or exposes them to hatred or contempt.
"We're prepared to deal with those articles piece by piece, paragraph by paragraph, and those things that we find objectionable," Joseph said.
Lawyers for Maclean's plan to argue that publication of the article is part of free speech and open debate.
"It does not meet the standard of hatred or contempt, and that's what we'll argue later in the week," said Julian Porter, one of the lawyers for Maclean's.
Tribunal hearing an 'attack of free speech'
Several Steyn supporters waved signs and placards outside the building where the hearing was held in downtown Vancouver on Monday.
They said the hearing shouldn't be happening at all.
"We're of the view in the first place that the human rights tribunal doesn't have any business deciding what appropriate expression in Canada might be," said Jason Gratl, a lawyer for the Canadian Association of Journalists and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
"Its activities and jurisdictions undermine the ability of journalists and members of the public to discuss important public issues such as race and religion," Gratl said.
The fact that the hearing is even taking place is an attack on free speech, said Ezra Levant, publisher of the now defunct, Alberta-based Western Standard magazine.
"I think this strikes at press freedom and even the freedom of thought of all Canadians. I think it's really an embarrassment that this is happening," Levant said.
The hearing is expected to last all week.