This week Mark Steyn gave evidence before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
He was questioned by Liberal MP David Zimmer.
Mr. David Zimmer: Mr. Steyn, there was a well-known, indeed famous, American jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who made a statement in which he expressed his view of the limit on free speech in a case in the 1930s, and I’m wondering if you agree or disagree with this statement. He said that nobody is free to yell “Fire” in a crowded movie theatre.
Mr. Mark Steyn: It wasn’t the 1930s; it was 1919 that Oliver Wendell Holmes made that statement. It’s interesting, that case. He was an American-
Mr. David Zimmer: I know, but do you agree with that statement or not?
Mr. Mark Steyn: Let me say this for a start: He was upholding espionage charges against an anti-war protester. So by his measure, thousands of Canadian liberals would have been rounded up for protesting the war in Afghanistan.
Mr. David Zimmer: But don’t duck the question.
Mr. Mark Steyn: I’m not ducking the question…
Mr. David Zimmer: No, no, but then answer the statement.
Mr. Mark Steyn: Because Oliver –
The Chair (Mrs. Julia Munro): Excuse me. Could I just have one speaker at a time?
Mr. Mark Steyn: Oliver Wendell Holmes said that the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely-falsely-shouting “Fire” in a theatre. The problem with the Human Rights Tribunal is that falsely shouting “Fire” is not at issue. It doesn’t matter whether the theatre actually is on fire, because under the Human Rights Tribunal, truth is not a defence.
In my own particular case, no one has ever pointed to a single fact in the Maclean’s article, an excerpt from my book, that is inaccurate. So essentially-
Mr. David Zimmer: But back to Holmes’s statement, is that a fair limitation on freedom of speech: You can’t yell “Fire” in a movie theatre, just as a general proposition?
Mr. Mark Steyn: As I’ve tried to answer you, I think if the theatre is on fire, you’re certainly entitled to point that out. By the way, that, as a metaphor, is simply a ludicrous metaphor. He was talking about gaslight, 19th century theatres. By 1919, the Winter Garden on Broadway… was an electrified theatre, and it wasn’t in danger of burning down. The metaphor is lazy and irrelevant.
Source: The Corner on National Review Online