Stop the human-rights censors

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The Article

Over the past 15 years, there has been scant public concern over the disposition of Canada’s human rights commissions to silence white racists, anti-Semites and obscure Christians. Only now are most Canadians finally beginning to grasp the danger that the freedom-stifling powers of these commissions could be turned on them.

Much of the credit for this awakening goes to Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn. While most journalists have either condoned censorship or cowered in silence, Levant and Steyn have resolutely defied their human-rights attackers.

Steyn’s ordeal began last December, when the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal placed him under investigation for “The Future Belongs to Islam,” an excerpt from his best-selling book, America Alone, that was published in Maclean’s Magazine. The complainants in the case – all associates of the Canadian Islamic Congress—insisted that Steyn and Maclean’s had no right in Canadian law to offend Muslims by publishing his honestly held convictions on the dangers posed by radical Islam.

The result was a national scandal. Many Canadians were shocked that such a flagrant attack on freedom of the press could happen in Canada.

In the face of this controversy, the Ontario Human Rights Commission was the first to back down. In a statement issued in April, the Commission denounced Steyn and Maclean’s for publishing an “explicit expression of Islamophobia,” but declined to proceed against them on the grounds that the Commission has no specific authority under the Ontario Human Rights Code to censor journalists and magazines.

Such a fine regard for the plain words and original understanding of the law is new to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. No such consideration inhibited the agency from prosecuting former London Mayor Dianne Haskett for refusing on principle to issue gay-pride proclamations.

In June, the Canadian Human Rights Commission followed the Ontario lead in the Steyn case, by announcing that it, too, had dropped its investigatiom. Four months later, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal also acquitted Steyn and Maclean’s on the ground that it had no authority in law to suppress political debate.

These rulings must have bemused Chris Kempling, a British Columbia man who was suspended from his post as a secondary school teacher in 2002 for expressing his opposition to same-sex marriage and other gay-rights projects in letters to the editor of his local newspaper. Kempling appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, only to have the country’s top court refuse even to hear the case.

Last year, the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal likewise censured Stephen Boissoin, a part-time Baptist youth pastor, for publishing a letter to the editor of the Red Deer Advocate in which he denounced a new program of teaching on homosexuality in the Alberta public schools. For this offence to the sensitivities of homosexuals, the Tribunal ordered Boissoin to apologize, pay $7,000 in damages, and refrain from any more “disparaging” remarks about gays and homosexuals “in newspapers, by email, on the radio, in public speeches or on the Internet.”

In protest against this flagrant attack on freedom of expression, Levant courageously republished Boissoin’s controversial letter on his own website with the addendum: “OK, you ‘human rights’ bullies. Come get me.” After much dithering, the Canadian Human Rights Commission announced last week that it would not take up Levant’s challenge.

Meanwhile, delegates to the recent Conservative policy convention in Winnipeg overwhelmingly backed a resolution calling for elimination of the censorship powers in section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. And earlier this week, Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor, made the same suggestion in a review of human rights law prepared for the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

One key question remains: When oh when will our supposedly conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally summon up the political courage to authorize the introduction of a government bill to strip the Canadian Human Rights Commission of its power to suppress the fundamental rights of Canadians to freedom of expression?

Rory Leishman
Latest posts by Rory Leishman (see all)

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