Human rights commissions in the news
Human rights commissions are in the news a lot these days. Here are a few items.
Mark Steyn to testify before the Ontario Provincial Parliament
Lisa Macleod is the first elected politician in Canada to actually start the process of reforming Canada’s abusive HRCs. Other politicians, like MPs Keith Martin and Rick Dykstra, have introduced motions. But Macleod actually grilled Ontario’s would-be human rights tribunal chairs – the kangaroos in the kangaroo courts. That was the first time any sort of political scrutiny has been brought to HRC appointees anywhere in Canada.
Now she’s keeping at it, by holding public hearings into the workings of Ontario’s HRC. Incredibly, she has invited Mark Steyn to testify. Steyn, as readers will recall, was the victim of a drive-by character assassination by Barbara Hall, the head of Ontario’s HRC, who saw fit to condemn him of anti-Muslim discrimination without the bother of a hearing into the matter. I can hardly wait to hear Steyn’s testimony. People pay hundreds of dollars for the pleasure of hearing Steyn give a speech on the subject. But now anyone in Toronto on February 9 can simply attend the legislature’s committee room 151 at 1:30 p.m. to hear him for free. I think they ought to get a bigger room.
Alberta MLA’s proposed HRC reform worse than useless
After the abominable case of the censorship of Rev. Stephen Boissoin, I was contacted by a friend in the Government of Alberta, who told me that positive reforms were afoot to the HRC. I suppose the departure of Lori Andreachuk counts, but I was led to believe it would be something more.
The Calgary Herald’s Nigel Hannaford brings news that freshman MLA Jonathan Denis has introduced a motion – a non-binding symbolic vote, not a real bill – to change how Alberta’s HRC would work. But according to Hannaford’s report, Denis’s proposal is worse than useless. I can’t find Denis’s motion on the Legislature’s website, but according to Hannaford, it proposes that:
those found to have filed frivolous and vexatious complaints (including complaints that are found to unreasonably challenge the rights of freedoms of speech, association, peaceful assembly, conscience and religion,) be required to pay a portion of the commission's procedural costs.
So that’s the great reform, eh? Frivolous complainants who use the HRCs to bully victims have to pay a portion of… the government’s costs. Not the victim. The victim can go pound sand, even in a frivolous, bullying case. The government will take the money – as a tax, really.
Of course, as Hannaford points out, the HRC itself decides what’s frivolous or not, and by their own definition they don’t proceed with frivolous cases. So, even the lame proposal above will never actually be used, because it’s a tautology: whatever the HRC investigates is by definition not unreasonable.
What a joke.
Sheldon Chumir Foundation proposes several reforms to HRC
I’ve written about the Sheldon Chumir Foundation before – they hosted a conference about freedom of speech a few months ago out in Halifax, to which I was invited as a speaker (as was the “Journalism Doctor”, John Miller). I was impressed with their devotion to true civil liberties, not the perversion of those liberties, often done in the name of “human rights”.
The list of reforms proposed by the foundation includes the following:
that free speech be protected by amending section 3 of the Act;
that the Provincial Government recruit well-known Albertans with significant experience on human rights issues to serve as Human Rights Commissioners;
that the Alberta Human Rights Commission report directly to the Alberta Legislative Assembly, not to a Cabinet Minister as is now the case;
that the adjudication of complaints be carried out by a fully independent Tribunal;
that legal assistance be made available, on the basis of financial need, to both complainants and to respondents in cases that come before the Tribunal;
Section 3 in the Alberta law is similar to section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act – it’s the censorship provision. So in that respect, their recommendation is like that of Prof. Richard Moon, who called for a repeal of that federal law. Naturally, I’m delighted by this recommendation.
The call to have commissioners with “significant experience” hopefully means that commissioners would have a command of civil liberties. Right now, several Alberta’s HRC commissioners aren’t even lawyers, yet they presume to issue startling orders affecting Albertans’ liberties, and meting out fines. Of course, calling for “experience” would likely end up meaning life-long leftist activists, like the anthem-banning principal from New Brunswick, moving in.
Reporting to the legislature, not a cabinet minister, will help with transparency and accountability. Having a completely separate tribunal would add to independence, too. And the final point – providing legal assistance to parties – hints at protecting victims of HRC bullies. Unfortunately, it also opens the system up to more abuse, as complainants will actually receive money for pressing their complaints.
At a philosophical level, I’m opposed to “tweaking” human rights commissions. In short, they’re obsolete (Canada is the most tolerant country in the world – no thanks to HRCs). They’re redundant (everything from employment law to landlord and tenant issues are already covered by other courts and tribunals). They’re procedurally second-rate (unlike real courts) and they’re infested with political radicals, without political accountability.
In other words, they don’t need to be trimmed. They need to be weeded out, by the roots.
That’s the ideal. But it’s clear that Alberta’s governing Conservatives are conservative only in name, and are loath to tackling the abuses of the HRC. It’s unthinkable that such an inert bunch would do anything as dramatic as abolishing the HRC; so abolishing its speech code is an attractive second-best choice. But anything that gives more money or legitimacy to the HRC will doubtless, in the end, give more power to bullying bureaucrats.
I haven’t read the full report, here, yet, but I’ll blog about it when I do. I should note that the Chumir Foundation’s release of their report was well-attended, including by the provincial minister in charge.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, he does. I'm not holding my breath.