By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

EDMONTON, Alberta, September 15, 2010 ( – The Alberta government’s Culture Minister, Lindsay Blackett, this week announced the implementation of further changes to the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC), which he characterized as “kangaroo courts.”

The AHRC is known especially for its handling of the case involving Christian pastor Stephen Boissoin, who was found guilty of hate speech for writing a letter to the editor to a local paper, in which he criticized the homosexualist agenda.

“We had to change the governance of how it’s run,” Blackett told the Calgary Herald. “It has to be objective. It’s a quasi-judicial body that has to be run like one. No more kangaroo courts.”

Blackett was responding to criticisms of the commission’s focus on hate crime complaints, and disregard for normal judicial process and rules of evidence that apply to regular court proceedings.

Last year the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, a non-profit organization that looks at activities across the country, said in a report on the AHRC, “The Alberta HRC seems to have taken a real nosedive, starting in the ’90s,” and suffers from “low profile and poor reputation.”

Janet Keeping, president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation recommended in the report that, apart from making the commission “more user friendly and offering legal assistance to both defendant and complainant,” the government should repeal Section 3 of Alberta’s Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act which deals with “statements or publications likely to expose people to hatred or contempt” in order to better protect freedom of speech.

“There are people unfortunately in the human rights community who are quick to say, ‘shut this person up, he said something nasty about gays’ or ‘shut this person up, he said something nasty about people in Somalia,”‘ she said. “We don’t see limitations on freedom of expression as a good thing in the human rights arena. We see it as a bad thing.”

The credibility of the Alberta HRC was called into question when, on Dec. 3, 2009 Justice Earl Wilson of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench overturned the Alberta human rights tribunal ruling against Boissoin, saying the tribunal overstepped its constitutional bounds and took significant procedural liberties that would have never been permitted in a real court.

Boissoin was found guilty by the Alberta human rights tribunal of making disparaging remarks about homosexuality in a letter to the Red Deer Advocate. He was fined $7000, ordered to personally apologize to the complainant via a public statement in the local newspaper, and told he may never again express his views on homosexuality publicly.

Following the ruling, Minister Blackett said that the human rights complaint against Boissoin should never have gone to the commission or been heard by the tribunal.

“[The commission’s] not there to mediate hurt feelings caused by some words or not,” Blackett told the CBC. “If it’s hateful, then that’s a hate crime. And that’s something for the Crown attorneys and the police services to investigate.”

In February 2009, Blackett announced the appointment of retired Calgary judge David Blair Mason, Q.C. as Chief Commissioner of the AHRC as a first step toward reforming the organization.

However, Mason’s first initiative was to work toward writing sexual orientation protection into Alberta human rights legislation, which conservative commentator Ezra Levant said was “appalling.”

“I was tough on (Premier) Stelmach, because he deserves it. It’s one thing to do nothing about HRCs—like the federal Conservatives. I can even understand it, if I disagree with it—it’s inertia. But to actually say you’re going to reform something, and to make it worse, as Stelmach has done? Appalling.”

Minister Blackett told the Herald that the next step in reforming the AHRC will be the appointment of a new, yet-to-be-named director, someone of “top notch quality” who will “retool the commission from top to bottom.”

The main focus of the new director, Blackett said, will be to streamline the processing of complaints to reduce wait times, and thus improve the commission’s image in the public’s eye.

See previous LSN articles:

New Alberta Human Rights Chief Commissioner to Work to Add “Sexual Orientation” to Legislation

Alberta Government Refuses HRC Reform, Adds “Sexual Orientation” to Anti-Discrimination Law

Pastor Boissoin Exonerated: Judge Rules Letter on Homosexuality Not “Hate” Speech

Canadian Province May Scrap Controversial Human Rights Tribunal