By Thaddeus M. Baklinski

EDMONTON, Alberta, February 6, 2009 ( – The Alberta government has announced the appointment of retired Calgary judge David Blair Mason, Q.C. as Chief Commissioner of the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The Alberta HRC has been searching for a new commissioner since Dec. 2007.

“David Blair Mason, Q.C. has led a very impressive legal career, with experiences that make him an outstanding choice to lead our province’s Human Rights and Citizenship Commission,” said Lindsay Blackett, Minister of Culture and Community Spirit, in a government news release.

Blackett indicated that one of the priorities for the new commissioner is to work toward writing sexual orientation protection into Alberta human-rights legislation.

“But that’s something that’s up to caucus – we would need to vote on that together. It’s probably not prudent for me to comment on what I would do personally, because it’s not up to me,” said the minister in a Calgary Sun report.

Commissioner Mason added, “Human rights is a very important part of the legislation in this province that needs prominence.”

“Human rights commissions, as you probably know, have been under scrutiny and criticism across the country,” Blackett said in a Sun Media report. “Alberta needs a chief commissioner with the qualifications, proven experience, and leadership to help reframe the human rights commission for the 21st century.”

Responding to a highly critical report of the Alberta HRC by the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, a non-profit organization that looks at activities across the country, Blackett said, “Most people would concur the (HRC) process is somewhat broken.” He added that he hopes Mason will be the one to change the growing public perception of the Alberta HRC as, in the words of HRC critic Ezra Levant, “a politically correct kangaroo court.”

Janet Keeping, president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation, said, “The Alberta HRC seems to have taken a real nosedive, starting in the ‘90s,” and suffers from “low profile and poor reputation.” She 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.

Such anti-hate law provisions are an unacceptable limitation on free speech, said Keeping.

“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.”

Blackett said that the Sheldon Chumir Foundation’s recommendations will be part of the government’s review of the behavior of the Alberta HRC.


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