By John-Henry Westen and John Jalsevac

TORONTO, February 11, 2009 ( – The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has issued a report calling for the Canadian Government to create a national press council with mandatory membership, a suggestion that critics say amounts to a call for government censorship of the press.

The OHRC is pushing for the “statutory creation of a national press council with compulsory membership and powers to determine breach of professional standards and order publication of press council decisions.”

According to the proposal, all Canadian magazines, newspapers and “media service” websites would have to join the council, which would be given the power to deal with discrimination complaints. This would include internet-only news services as well as blogs. The media has the duty to “address issues of hate expression” says the report.

The recommendations came in a submission by the OHRC to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, released yesterday.  The submission says the commission wants to ensure that “mechanisms are in place to provide opportunity for public scrutiny and the receipt of complaints, particularly from vulnerable groups.” 

The OHRC observes that these measures “must not cross the line into censorship” and that the “OHRC recognizes the media must have full freedom and control over what they publish.”

However, an editorial published today in the National Post, a national Canadian newspaper, questions whether or not such provisions can avoid becoming censorship, and questions the motives of the commission in pushing for such a council.

The OHRC is known for targeting Christians and conservatives in the public square, having in the past fined Christian mayors for refusing to proclaim gay pride day and fought against conscience rights for medical professionals. Last year the council also ordered the Christian charity, Christian Horizons, to stop requiring employees to sign a “morality statement,” in which employees agreed to live according to basic Christian ethical standards. The staff at Christian Horizons were also ordered to undergo pro-homosexual “human rights training.”

The National Post editorial board also suggests that the OHRC recommendation is related to the commission’s inability to prosecute journalist Mark Steyn for “Islamophobia” last year, due to the fact that the Ontario Human Rights Code does not extend to published works. The human rights codes of other provinces, however, do extend to such written materials, and so while the Ontario commission was unable to pursue the complaint against Steyn, the B.C. commission held hearings on the issue, although the complaint was later dropped.

Famously, Barbara Hall, the head of the OHRC, released a press release announcing that the Ontario commission could not follow through on the complaint against Steyn, but in which she nevertheless denounced his writings as Islamophobic.

“Ominously, at the time, Ms. Hall also stated that all journalists should put their writings through a ‘human rights filter’ before publication,” observes the National Post editorial. “Because she was not able to force such a filter on Maclean’s, her current proposal for a national press council is almost certainly an attempt to make such a filter mandatory, in law.”

The editorial concludes that “making all writers, bloggers and broadcasters hostage to a national press council is merely the first step toward letting the Barbara Halls of the world decide what you get to hear, see and read. To that, we say: ‘No, thanks.’ And so should every newspaper reader, Web surfer and television viewer in the land.”

As reported Monday, federal MP’s will be looking at proceeding with curtailing or scrapping Section 13 – the hate provisions – of the Canadian Human Rights Act altogether. In the process they will consider the misuse of the Section by the Human Rights Commissions.

See the full submission by Catholic Insight:

See the full submission by the OHRC:

See related coverage: