Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 11, 2005
Complaints misuse of power - legal expert
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
The human right complaints against Calgary Bishop Fred Henry now before the Alberta Human Rights Commission represent a "misuse of power" that trivializes genuine human rights concerns, warns a Canadian legal expert.
Lawyer Iain Benson, who consults internationally on religious and human rights, said the complaints against Henry could put the system of human rights protection into "disrepute."
In a March 31 open letter to Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission director Marie Riddle, Benson said human rights tribunals and commissions must not lose sight of essential freedoms or they will "imperil their very role within society."
"The increasingly expressed concerns of religious groups (and other concerned citizens) about human rights (commissions) 'over-reaching' their proper role to force particular conceptions on the population, signal an important and dangerous development in recent years," wrote Benson, a practising Catholic who also acts as executive director of the Ottawa-based think tank, the Centre for Cultural Renewal.
"The very future of human rights depends upon a firm message to citizens that such rights are important and not to be trivialized," he wrote. "Subjecting citizens to expensive and often protracted proceedings is a misuse of power."
Organizations like Focus on the Family and the Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) have also come out in support of Henry who faces human rights complaints for a January letter to Catholics in his diocese.
CCRL President Phil Horgan described the complaints as a form of persecution that was "feared and predicted as part of the debate surrounding same-sex 'marriage.'"
"Nevertheless, the Church has survived fascist and communist regimes in the last century, I trust the Church will survive the Alberta Human Rights Commission," Horgan said in a telephone interview from Toronto March 31.
Horgan predicts the human rights complaints will have a "chilling effect."
"I do not expect the same-sex advocates to back down," he said. "I expect them to be even more aggressive."
Horgan notes that same-sex advocacy websites have described the Catholic Church as a "vile religion that needs to be purged" and that its leaders are "bigots" and "fascist."
"The coercive power of the state extends to tax policy, education, curriculum, communications regulations and all sorts of other areas within its jurisdiction," Horgan said, noting that it doesn't always mean throwing someone in jail.
Horgan finds it ironic that those who complain about his use of those words have no hesitation against using the coercive power of the state against Henry.
During the last election, an official from Revenue Canada threatened to remove the bishop's charitable status if he did not remove a pastoral letter from the diocese's website.
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