By Hilary White
TORONTO, December 19, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Opposition is growing in the press to the power and boldness of the Canadian Human Rights Commissions (HRC) to suppress freedom of expression and to police what Canadians may say in public. While Christians and social conservatives in Canada have been under attack through the HRC’s for years, it was not until the case against popular columnist Mark Steyn and Maclean’s magazine that the Canadian mainstream media has picked up the scent of a threat to their own freedoms.
In today’s Calgary Herald, Rebecca Walberg writes that the Commissions must be “shut down.” Earlier this week the National Post protested that the Steyn case is one of “censorship in the name of ‘human rights’”. The Chilliwack Times ran an editorial calling the Commissions and their tribunals “a powerful ally” in the efforts of some to “further restrict our right to free speech.”
The case that has garnered the attention of Canada’s mainstream media is that brought by the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) against popular conservative columnist Mark Steyn and Maclean’s, Canada’s foremost news magazine. Maclean’s published an excerpt, headlined “The Future Belongs to Islam,” from Steyn’s bestselling book “America Alone” in which he predicts a coming clash between an increasingly aggressive Islamic minority in Europe and the shrinking remnants of European post-Christian social values.
The CIC complained to the Human Rights Commission of “exposing Canadian Muslims to hatred and Islamophobia”. A representative of the group claims the complaint is intended to “protect Canadian multiculturalism and tolerance”.
The Herald’s Walberg writes that “in a country with Sunday shopping, abortion rights and same-sex marriage…[h]uman rights commissions are vestigial organs, a historical correction that no longer serves any useful function.”
“The Canadian Human Rights Commission, though, has the power to embroil Steyn and Maclean’s in paperwork, to force them to pay for legal representation in this process, and even the power to fine them and force them to agree to terms satisfactory to the CIC. The CIC’s real goal seems to be not justice or the pursuit of truth, but the abolition of public discourse that is critical of Islam.”
Canada’s Human Rights Commissions were started in the 1970’s on the recommendation of activists who said that there needed to be a cost-free informal court system where vulnerable people like immigrants could seek redress in cases of discrimination in matters of employment, services and accommodation. The legislation bringing them into existence gives them permission to disregard the usual rules of legal procedures meant to protect defendants’ rights such as rules of evidence, presumption of innocence, bias of witnesses or representation. Its officers and adjudicators do not have to have legal training but are political appointees, commonly representatives of special interest groups.
The HRC’s have been used most effectively by organisations on the far left, especially homosexual lobbyists, to impose restrictions on members of religious groups and other conservatives. The defendant in all HRC proceedings must cover his own legal expenses but the state does not charge the complainant. This system, many have said, leaves the HRC’s wide open to abuse as a completely taxpayer paid (for the complainant only) weapon in political battles that would be prohibitively expensive in the legitimate court system.
The Chilliwack Times’ John Martin, a criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley, wrote, “[T]hese commissions have become little more than support groups for those who would censor and deny any speech they disagree with. It’s ironic that they’re referred to as ‘human rights’ commissions when, in fact, they have become the champions of groups who insist others are not entitled to differing opinions, voices or expressions.”
Ezra Levant, formerly the editor of the Western Standard that had stood against HRC cases brought by the CIC, wrote on the Shotgun ‘blog that a large part of their usefulness to lobby groups is the lack of cost. “The CIC learned their lesson: there’s no point suing in defamation law, where the CIC would have to pay for their own lawyers, and our lawyers if we won, and where silly things like the rule of law apply”.
“Better to go to the human rights commissions where the taxpayer pays for the prosecution, traditional rules of evidence and procedure don’t apply, and free speech is not protected,” Levant continued. “It still has all of the down-sides for the defendant—the hassle, the cost, and a lower bar for a ‘conviction’—but none of the cost for the complainants.”
Others have pointed out that the Human Rights Commissions are so weighted in favour of the complainant that it is wide open to abuse as a means of making money. Richard Warman, a far left human rights lawyer based in Ottawa, is a former employee and investigator for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Warman has filed an unusually large number of complaints with the HRC against groups on the right and admitted that he files complaints in his spare time.
In 2006, in a keynote speech to the violent Anti-Racist Action group in Toronto, Warman described his high volume, tax-funded activism the “maximum disruption” approach to leftist agitation. “I’ve come to the conclusion that I can be most effective by using what I like to describe as a ‘maximum disruption’ approach…If I think that they’ve violated the Canadian Human Rights Act, then I’ll look at all of the potential targets and file complaints against them starting on a ‘worst offender’ basis”.
He added, “Sometimes if I just find people to be particularly annoying this may move them up the list a bit.” Publicly available documents show that Warman has been awarded at least Cn. $48,500 in “special compensation” via Human Rights Tribunal complaints since 2003.
Canadian Christians, social conservatives and others have long called for HRC’s to be abolished.
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See the article in question from Macleans
The future belongs to Islam
Maclean’s editor responds to CIC allegations