Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 24, 2008
Harper gov't urged to back down on 'thought crimes'
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Grassroots Conservatives want Ottawa to gut the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s (CHRC) power to investigate and punish free expression complainants deemed hateful or discriminatory.
At the Conservative Party’s policy conference in Winnipeg Nov. 13-15 delegates passed a resolution to “remove authority from the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal to regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints related to section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.”
Subsection 13.1 is the so-called thought crimes provision that allows the CHRC to investigate anything that is “likely” to expose a group or individual to hatred or contempt. No proof of harm is necessary and truth is no defence under this subsection.
“Freedom of speech and the right to life are certainly integral human rights we would like to see upheld,” said Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) executive director Joanne McGarry. “I certainly hope policies will be followed by legislative initiatives.”
Canada’s Justice Minister Rob Nicholson voted in favour of the policy resolution, even though his department has continued to defend section 13.1 before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
He also said he had supported a motion put forward in the last Parliament by Tory Rick Dykstra to have the justice committee investigate the CHRC.
But it remains to be seen whether these resolutions will translate into legislation.
Public pressure to reform human rights commissions (HRCs), both federal and provincial has mounted since the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) announced a year ago its human rights complaints against Maclean’s Magazine for running an excerpt of Mark Steyn’s bestselling book America Alone.
The CIC filed complaints in three jurisdictions: Ontario, the federal CHRC, and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, which held a five-day trial of the magazine before dismissing the complaint.
Last January, former Western Standard Publisher Ezra Levant, who faced complaints for republishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons, put his interrogation before the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal on YouTube, receiving about a half a million views.
Steyn and Levant have led a widening campaign both on the Internet and in the mainstream media to, in Levant’s words, “denormalize HRCs.”
Many columnists have raised concerns about out-of-control HRCs, as have editorial boards of major newspapers across the country and organizations like PEN Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists.
In late October, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told CFRB’s Brian Lilley he thought “everyone” had “some concerns” about “free speech issues and some of the activities of human rights commissions.”
“This is a complicated area of law, balancing what most people understand to mean by free speech with obvious desire to not have speech that would be intended to incite hatred towards particular groups or individuals,” he said.
The most “egregious” examples of violations come from provincial human rights commissions outside federal jurisdiction, Harper noted.