By all accounts, Khurrum Awan, Naseem Mithoowani and Muneeza Sheikh had had enough. Over a two-year period, starting in 2005, the Osgoode Hall law students had read twenty-two articles in Maclean's by columnists Barbara Amiel and Mark Steyn that, they felt, painted a portrait of Muslims that "went well beyond simply being offensive and became dangerous."
The students met with Maclean's in March 2007 and asked that the magazine print a "counter article." Editor-in-chief Kenneth Whyte refused, preferring, according to the students, to "go bankrupt." Julian Porter, Maclean's lawyer, says that the students' request—space for a 5,000-word rebuttal by an author of their choosing—went too far. The students appealed to Maclean's parent company Rogers Publishing and in late May CEO Brian Segal re-affirmed Whyte's initial refusal, hinting that the students should consider the Letters page.
In December, Awan, Mithoowani and Sheikh—a fourth complainant has since dropped out—filed human rights complaints against Maclean's with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The complaints singled out Steyn's article "The Future Belongs to Islam," which predicts a Muslim global takeover, and Maclean's refusal to provide space for a rebuttal, as discriminatory. (Steyn clarified that he was not trying to say that "the cities of the Western world will be filling up with sheep-shaggers.") In another article "Celebrate tolerance, or you're dead," Steyn describes Ayatollah Khomeini's instructions about sex with nine-year-olds and bestiality as "livelier examples" of "contemporary Islam." The students also targeted statements like this one by Amiel: "Normally, a people don't willingly acquiesce in the demise of their own culture, especially one as agreeable as Western democracy, but you can see how it happens. Massive Muslim immigration takes place…"
Thousands of human rights complaints are filed by Canadians every year. They range from the serious (a devout employer insisting all his employees attend prayer meetings) to the banal (everyday workplace grudges) to the ridiculous (a black patron in a restaurant complaining of "racism" because the waiter mistakenly served him fried chicken).