Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 10, 2007: Dean Steacy's CHRT testimony

Below is a section of the transcripts from Dean Steacy's testimony from May 10, 2007 (Warman v. Lemire, T1073/5405, vol. 21, pp. 4792).

(This post has been back-dated to the date of the testimony for archival purposes.)

MS KULASZKA: Mr. Steacy, you were talking before about context and how important it is when you do your investigation. What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate one of these complaints?

p. 4792, line 24

MR. STEACY: Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value. 4
MS KULASZKA: Okay. That was a clear answer. 6
MR. STEACY: It's not my job to give value to an American concept. 8
MS KULASZKA: I will give you an example. The AOL complaints you spoke about earlier and you said that they dealt with postings about the same-sex marriage debate. Is that right? 10
MR. STEACY: Yes. 15
MS KULASZKA: Did you give any kind of consideration to the fact that people were participating in a political debate at the time? 16
MR. STEACY: Yes. 19
MS KULASZKA: How did you do so? 20
MR. STEACY: In evaluating the information or the postings that were given by the posters, what was looked at were the arguments that were being made by the complainant and/or the respondent, and basically the positions of the parties. In one case, one of the respondents put the issue forward of freedom of expression. That was part of his defence, and what he had posted was what he had posted. That information was provided to the complainant for his comment, and, again, based on the facts raised or the information provided by both parties, that is what was presented in the investigation report. I didn't make a value judgment as to whether or not the complainant or the respondent -- that the positions they were taking were right or wrong, I presented both parties' positions. My job is not to evaluate the intent or the reasons why the individual posted what he posted, or evaluate the reasons why the complainant is complaining. He has made an allegation and my job is to investigate whether it happened and, based on the pertinent facts, I come up with a recommendation, and that recommendation is presented to the Commission and the Commission makes the decision to deal with it or not to deal with it, and it recommends what it is allowed to recommend. p. 4793, line 21
MS KULASZKA: Do you take into account, for instance, in that case, that there is a political debate, it is very heated, and that people might get emotional about it? p. 4794, line 23
MR. STEACY: Yes, that was one of the factors that was taken into account in one of the cases. But, at the same point in time, the comments and how far they went, and where they went, and the level of the intensity that they went, was also factored into the position of the parties. p. 4795, line 2
MS KULASZKA: So if someone claims freedom of speech for what they said, it is rejected out of hand? 9
MR. STEACY: If somebody is claiming freedom of expression, it is not rejected. As I said, freedom of speech is an American concept, it is not a Canadian concept. If somebody said, "I am doing this because of freedom of speech," I would equate that to somebody raising a freedom of expression concept. 12
MS KULASZKA: But you do realize that freedom of expression is protected under the Charter of Rights in Canada. 19
MR. STEACY: To a point it is. 22
MS KULASZKA: Yes, so I am asking you if you try to balance these values, these rights, in an investigation of section 13. 23
MS DAVIES: Mr. Chair, is the witness being asked to do a constitutional analysis? It is not his job to determine whether section 13 is constitutional, he just applies it. p. 4796, line 1
THE CHAIR: Yes, I understand that. That is clear, but I think it is important to understand how the Commission undertakes its investigations. I think that is what is being asked for here, on what basis does he exercise his duties to make recommendations. That's understood. It is certainly quite enlightening to hear what he is saying. Go ahead. 6
MR. STEACY: What specific type of language am I allowed to use? 16
THE CHAIR: You are free to use any language you want. 18
MR. STEACY: I mean profane language. 20
THE CHAIR: Oh, it's permissible, given the nature of the subject matter. You may use profane language. 21
MR. STEACY: If, for example, a posting says, "Every gay person should be taken out and whacked because they are butt fuckers," like was in some of the postings, in my interpretation, in the training I received, that goes beyond what is allowable. If somebody writes in a posting, "I disagree with gay marriages because my religious beliefs tell me that it's against my religion," that's freedom of expression. 24
MS KULASZKA: Do you take into account on message boards that people are sitting in their homes and they perceive message boards as being a private space? p. 4797, line 9
MR. STEACY: No. 13
MS KULASZKA: Do you take into account the fact that they believe they are conversing with other people? 14
MR. STEACY: Yes, I do. 17
MS KULASZKA: How do you take that into account? 18
MR. STEACY: Regardless of the fact that you are conversing with somebody else, you don't have the right to say absolutely anything you desire, especially when it's in a written format. 20
MS KULASZKA: Would you agree that a lot of this material, like the example you just gave, is almost barroom talk? If you were in a bar, you could hear this kind of talk. 24
MR. STEACY: Yes, but that doesn't mean it's acceptable. p. 4798, line 4
MS KULASZKA: No, it doesn't mean that it's acceptable, but it is the equivalent, isn't it? 6
MS KULASZKA: Except one is written and one is oral. 10
MR. STEACY: Yes. 12
MS KULASZKA: I am going to give you an example. This is something from my personal experience. This is a friend who had retired and her husband was driving her crazy, because he had retired, too, and she was complaining to someone I know about it, and she said, "You know, I think I'm going to have to shoot the bugger." She was talking about her husband, because he kept following her around their apartment. In an oral conversation it's humorous, but what if she had put that on a message board? 13
MR. STEACY: I would think that the police might think there had been a death threat made. 25
MS KULASZKA: That's right. It would stop being funny. It would stop being a little profane, but funny, a bit of a joke, and it would become quite serious, simply because it's written. Is that right? p. 4799, line 2
MR. STEACY: Yes. 7
MS KULASZKA: Do you ever take into account that context? 8
MR. STEACY: Yes, I do, and I have. 10
MS KULASZKA: Do you take into account the fact that people who post on a message board are not part of a large-scale scheme to promote hatred? 11
MR. STEACY: Again, it depends on the case. It depends on what was posted on the board. It depends on what the allegations of the complaint are. 15