Canadian Human Rights Commissions under Unprecedented Scrutiny for Attacks on Freedom of Expression
By Hilary White
TORONTO, February 27, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Pressure is mounting against the Canadian Human Rights Commissions. In recent days a federal court has criticised the Commissions for long-term incompetence and a Canadian Journalists’ group has come out in support of defendants Maclean’s magazine, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant.
A federal court judge has lambasted the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) for taking 23 years to come to a conclusion in a case involving equal pay for female postal workers.
In 1983, the Public Service Alliance of Canada alleged that Canada Post’s mostly female clerical workers were being paid less than its mostly male workers in operational jobs. After ten years of investigations, and twelve more years of hearings, the CHRC in 2005 ordered $150 million to be paid to the workers.
Last week, however, the Federal Court of Canada overturned that decision and blasted the Commission for incompetence. Justice Michael Kelen said the tribunal had "unreasonably ignored the factual reality" that there was no evidence of wage discrimination based on gender at Canada Post.
Judge Kelen condemned the extreme length of the Commission’s proceedings, saying, "This case offends the public conscience of what is reasonable and responsible".
"Many of the original female complainants working as [clerks] at Canada Post in 1983 may be dead. The hearing lacked the discipline required of a court of law."
Two years ago, the Western Standard Magazine with Levant as publisher 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 and those against Steyn and Maclean’s, come from Islamic activists who claim that the journalists have defamed their religion.
Columns and editorials have appeared and increased steadily in defence of Steyn and Levant and freedom of expression since Levant posted nine videos of his statement to Alberta Human Rights Commission officer Shirlene McGovern. His uncompromising defence of freedom of expression has resulted in an avalanche of support from most of the Canadian conservative movement, but also from some unexpected sources.
Last week a group called "PEN" that represents authors threatened with restrictions on freedom of speech, and whose honorary patron is John Ralston Saul, issued a statement in support of Steyn, Levant and Maclean’s. PEN is calling upon the Canadian government to change the legislation "to ensure commissions can no longer be used to attempt to restrict freedom of expression in Canada".
"Recent complaints in Alberta against journalist Ezra Levant and in Ontario against Maclean’s magazine and its writer Mark Steyn raise disturbing questions about the degree to which Human Rights Commissions have taken it upon themselves to become arbiters of what constitutes free speech."
PEN was joined this week by the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), which released a statement in support of Keith Martin’s motion to scrap the so-called "hate speech" section of the Canadian Human Rights Act, Section 13 (1), upon which many HRC complaints have been based.
The group’s president, Mary Agnes Welch, said, "Human rights commissions were never intended to act as a form of thought police. But now they’re being used to chill freedom of expression on matters that are well beyond accepted Criminal Code restrictions on free speech."
The CAJ said it supports Liberal MP Keith Martin’s private members motion to have section 13(1) of the Act repealed and that similar provincial legislation should also be amended as required.
Nina Grewal, a Conservative party MP, wrote in a letter to a constituent that she is in favour of a "fundamental review" of the Canadian Human Rights Act. She wrote, referring specifically to the cases of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, "There are… areas where reform may be required; specifically the willingness of commissions to consider questions relating to freedom of speech. I am worried that by censoring one kind of expression, it will be easier to start censoring others."
Levant has written extensively on his website on the issue, saying that the exposure has been valuable in revealing that the Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals are not bound by the same procedural rules that govern the legitimate court system. These rules were developed over centuries of western jurisprudence and govern rules of evidence, presumption of innocence and the right to representation, among others. In addition, the legislation governing the Alberta Human Rights Commissions gave officers broad powers of search and seizure that many are calling contrary to democratic civil rights.
See previous LifeSiteNews.com coverage:
Prominent Canadian Publisher Denounces Human Rights Commissions at HRC Hearing
Liberal MP Launches Motion to Stop Human Rights Commission Squelching of Free Speech