In case you don't know Mark Steyn: Well, basically Mr Steyn is a rightwing lunatic. He raves on the web and right-wing papers like MacLean's the Chicago Sun-Times (courtesy of convicted rightwing fraudster Conrad Black), the Washington Times (owned by the Moonies), the New York Sun (courtesy of convicted rightwing fraudster Conrad Black) among others, against gays, Muslims and most other folks that are not like him. No doubt his hysterics are partially a marketing ploy (nobody reasonable would beat up minorities as he does without hoping for a public outcry). After all, in this day and age, the more aggressively you wave your hands and shout 'fire', the more likely you are to get the attention that you probably didn't get from your parents while you were younger. Certainly Mr Steyn, by now, should have more than overcompensated for parental failings and should be very much in the clear.
So, currently the Canadian Human Rights Commission is investigating MacLean's for republishing an excerpt from a book in which Mr Steyn attacks Islam and Muslims. I am not a great friend of this ideology or most of its followers either (just as I think any other monotheistic religion is likely to cause more harm than good), but Mr Steyn being Mr Steyn, he manages to mess up occasionally sensible arguments by means of going after the person (the believer) rather than the cause of the evil, namely the ideology. No doubt there is a correlation between crimes committed in the name of Islam and the ideology which doesn't seem to forbid its followers clearly to commit such crimes.
Having said that, one should be concerned about the Canadian Human Rights Commission going after Mr Steyn and Maclean's on the grounds that his views caused offense to Muslims. Mr Steyn is right to point out that what constitutes offense is very much in the eyes of the beholder. No doubt there is a direct correlation between the views one holds and what one considers offensive. Ie, the more fanatical my views are the more likely I am to take offense at even the slightest criticism of my opinions. To be also fair to Mr Steyn, due to his mostly repulsive agitprop style writings he is constantly under attack by legions of people. For instance, he would almost certainly never attack Christian fundamentalists firebombing reproductive health clinics in the USA, no, his targets would rather be gay people being discriminated against by right-wing Christians. To his credit, to the best of my knowledge he has never resorted to the courts to stop them from having their say about him.
But herein also lies the problem: One of the reasons for why we don't have absolute freedom of speech is precisely to protect weaker groups of people (let's call them lunatics favourite targets or LFTs) from attacks like Mr Steyn's.
Mr Steyn, a darling of the political right, arguably would be unknown without Mr Black and his wife's interventions, which gave him access to many of the papers controlled at one point or other by the Black media empire. So, civil rights protections of LFTs(and Muslims in liberal societies are still just that) are a means of leveling the playing field to some extent. It's all nice and well to say that there should be absolute freedom of speech for us all when only some of us (say, those with the right (!) connections) have convenient access to mass media outlets in order to vent their spleen, while most others of us are relegated to the letters pages. Limitations on freedom of speech are also designed to prevent unnecessary inflammations of the relations between different communities making up a given society. In other words, they're precisely designed to stop people addicted to generating public attention for themselves, consequences be damned, from getting away with conduct not conducive to living peacefully together. This also applies, of course, to radical Muslims going over the top. Not a bad deal in the end, I would think. So, I would not really mind if Mr Steyn and MacLean's were held to account, provided the Human Rights Commission consistently applied the same standard to fanatics of any other ideological conviction.