By Hilary White and John Jalsevac

  TORONTO, February 28, 2008 ( – With increasing media attention in Canada and around the world on the two cases of the Canadian Human Rights Commissions vs. Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn, some have expressed shock that Janet Epp Buckingham, former legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), recently came to the defence of the HRCs as just another legitimate part of Canada’s justice system.

  Writing for ChristianWeek’s online edition on February 15, Buckingham said, “Some people are using the mere fact that the commissions are considering the complaints to argue that they should be abolished. That is like saying that the courts should be shut down just because someone has sued me!”

  Buckingham wrote, “Sure, it is a pain and can be costly if you hire a lawyer to defend you. But that is what happens in a country where you have laws and courts. You may have to defend yourself against someone whose claim has little merit. Everyone deserves their day in court.”

  Immediately after the publication of Buckingham’s column, however, numerous conservative leaders criticized Buckingham for what they called her naiveté. Canadian Christian journalist Denyse O’Leary, who also writes for ChristianWeek, wrote that she is “appalled that…someone who apparently knows so little about the ‘HRCS’ workings would even comment”.

“No. Everyone whose claim has ‘little merit’ does NOT deserve their day in an ‘HRC’ court, as they exist in Canada.”

  O’Leary writes on her website, “I think Janet Epp Buckingham owes every independent journalist in Canada an apology, but especially the Christian ones, who have – in many cases – sacrificed much and risked much.”

  In an interview with, however, Buckingham yesterday said that she feels “a little beaten up” and is “taken aback” by the backlash against her article by fellow conservatives, saying that she is “not the enemy.” Buckingham said that she never intended to convey to her readers that there was no problem with the Human Rights Commissions, but rather only wished to caution against prematurely calling for their total elimination.

“I wrote the commentary at a time when there was considerable advocacy for abolishing human rights commissions,” said Buckingham, explaining that the piece was written in mid-January.

  Buckingham told LifeSiteNews that she agrees that the HRCs are in need of significant reform, most especially when it comes to matters of “expression”. Hence, she said she fully supports the private members bill being brought forward by MP Keith Martin, which would repeal section 13 (1) of federal human rights legislation, which is the section that has been invoked in recent times to attack public figures such as Ezra Levant, Mark Steyn, Ron Paul, because they ostensibly wrote “offensive” material.

“This is an opportune time to push for reform of the system,” said Buckingham, “Some human rights codes include prohibitions on publishing material that ‘demeans or belittles’ someone or a group of persons based on certain characteristics. This type of provision is a significant restriction on freedom of expression.

“The Human Rights Commissions were never meant to protect against hurt feelings.”

  Nevertheless, she added, “I do believe that the human rights system can be a public good in Canada. I was trying to make the point that Christians, along with many other groups in society, have been able to stop discrimination through the human rights system. And these people likely would not have been able to afford to go to court when they lost jobs or were refused housing on the basis of their religion or their skin colour.”
  Buckingham said she was sorry that her opinion was “misunderstood.” “I did not mean to make light of the expense and hardship people have gone through as they have had to hire lawyers to defend themselves against human rights complaints. It is not only the expense, but negative publicity and emotional hardship that people go through. It is not an easy thing to face a human rights complaint and the system is being abused by those who feel offended by a particular piece of writing.” Hence Buckingham said she supports a reform to curtail such abuses.

  However, conservative commentators who disagreed with Buckinham’s article say that her back-pedalling isn’t enough, and that she got what she deserved.

“She never once mentioned that she thought they [the Commissions] should be improved,” Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada told LifeSiteNews. “The whole article was drifting to how noble and good the Commissions were.” Landolt called Buckingham’s article “naëve and shockingly inaccurate.”

  As to Buckingham’s claims that her article was simply misunderstood, Landolt responded, “It was not misinterpreted. Nobody misinterpreted what she said at all. I think what has happened is that she realized that she made very murky arguments that cannot stand up under analysis. She meant what she said. In no words did she give any intimations that the Commissions could be adjusted.”

  Landolt said that the criticisms levelled against Buckingham’s article were, “well deserved. What she said is utterly without merit.”
  Landolt also took Buckingham to task for continuing to downplay the seriousness of the procedural flaws inherent in the Human Rights Commissions, in which the accused is often forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for their defense, while the accuser’s fees are covered by the government. “Janet never dealt with that. She just said they were wonderful,” said Landolt, suggesting that Buckingham failed to understand the extreme financial burden and mental suffering that the accused in many of the recent cases have had to undergo in order to defend themselves against spurious cases. The Commission tribunals are increasingly being referred to as “kangaroo courts” for their overwhelming weight in favour of the complainants.

  In her article Buckingham maintained that while a Human Rights Tribunal complaint may cause “pain”, it still constitutes a legitimate avenue of legal redress. But Landolt pointed out that some of the recent cases, such as the Steyn and Levant cases, have shown that that the normal rules of court and legal procedure, designed to protect the legal rights of defendants, do not apply in the Tribunals. “This is quite a different situation than litigation before the courts, when both parties are required to cover their own expenses,” Landoldt said.

  From his busy website, Ezra Levant, a lawyer and formerly the publisher of the Western Standard magazine, has launched a campaign to abolish, or at least greatly curtail the power of the HRCs. Two years ago, the Western Standard Magazine, alone among Canadian publications, published the now-infamous set of cartoons of the Islamic prophet Muhammad that sparked riots around the world after their original publication in a Dutch newspaper. The HRC complaints against him, in addition to others against Mark Steyn and Maclean’s magazine, come from Islamic activists who claim that the journalists have defamed their religion.

  But the issue at hand, Levant maintains, is not a matter of who has offended whom, but one that is foundational to maintaining a democratic state: freedom of expression and the right of citizens not to be harassed by the state about their private political or religious opinions. Given the expenses and emotional stresses involved, Levant maintains that in what he calls the “Kafkaesque” HRCs, “the process is the punishment”.

  Read Janet Epp Buckingham’s column:

  Read related coverage:

  Prominent Canadian Publisher Denounces Human Rights Commissions at HRC Hearing

  Governments Must Reform Human Rights Commissions, Says Canadian Magazine Editor