If the controversy over Canadian human rights law and free speech could be said to have had a singular genesis, it was one evening two years ago at the Al Madina Egyptian restaurant in a Waterloo strip mall, when a group of York University law students sat down for dinner with their patron, Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of microchip design and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.
At issue was the treatment of Islam in Maclean's magazine, and after considering criminal complaints or a civil case, the group decided on the quasi-judicial compromise, human rights commissions.
The campaign against Maclean's that was born that night has now failed in three jurisdictions, and the public outcry at its perceived frivolity has drawn Canada's entire human rights bureaucracy, fairly or unfairly, into scandal and disrepute. The debate has expanded to include other cases, and drawn together many threads, from white supremacy and immigrant integration to media freedoms and the rise of the blogs.
It will come to a climax on Monday when Richard Moon, a University of Windsor law professor, releases his independent review of the Canadian Human Rights Commission's mandate to fight hate on the Internet.