Free speech is a basic Canadian value. Indeed, it is one that’s key to any self-respecting, modern democracy.

That is why we welcome the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s dismissal last week of what we considered to be an unsupportable hate-speech complaint against Maclean’s magazine.

The ruling can be viewed as a small but significant victory in the battle against creeping totalitarianism. . . . However, freedom of speech remains under attack.

And the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has yet to rule on a similar complaint launched by the Canadian Islamic Congress over the same Steyn piece.

As former B.C. journalist Nigel Hannaford points out in a recent paper for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, free speech in Canada is now policed by two parallel justice systems.

One is the regular court system, which administers the anti-hate provisions of the Criminal Code.

The other consists of a number of federal and provincial human-rights commissions, set up in the ’60s and ’70s to deal swiftly with abuses in the areas of employment and accommodation.

Driven by political agendas, these increasingly quirky commissions have now taken on what is, in effect, a censor’s role.

Indeed they have, and they deserve to be treated as such, not as protectors of human rights, which they are not. Nice to see this issue getting so much play in the Canadian press. And here’s more from a prominent Canadian libel lawyer:

After four decades of suing or defending prominent authors, journalists and businessmen entangled in some of Canada’s most memorable libel cases, Mr. Porter warns that it is getting harder to defend reputations or preserve freedom of speech – rights honed over centuries of case law.

One culprit, he said, is quasi-judicial bodies such as human rights tribunals, which are operating far “beyond their jurisdiction.”

When these agencies investigate slander and defamation charges, he argues, they operate outside the bounds of civil court procedure. Defendants cannot rely on traditional libel defences such as truth, fair comment or good intent.

The resulting chilling effect is, of course, entirely intentional.