Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 29, 2009
Legal experts pan human rights report
Federal commission determined to continue interfering with freedom of speech, they say
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA - Catholic legal experts have panned the latest report from the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) as inadequate and even dangerous.
In a report tabled in Parliament June 11, the CHRC says it should stay in the business of policing hate on the Internet.
"The CHRC in this report shows its unwillingness to exercise restraint from within," said constitutional law expert Iain Benson, who has recently joined a Toronto law firm.
"In that circumstance it needs to come from without; it's time for legislators to act."
"We find that most of the recommendations amount to fairly superficial changes to a system that is fundamentally flawed," said Catholic Civil Rights League president Phil Horgan.
RIGHT OF FREE SPEECH
"Cases involved limitations on a charter right such as free speech should not be addressed by human rights commissions."
"The whole commission, including the tribunal, should be eliminated or at least vastly restricted in its power and its jurisdiction," said REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwen Landolt, a former Crown prosecutor.
The report, under the name of chief commissioner Jennifer Lynch, recommends tightening the overly-broad definition of hate in section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA).
That section says that anything "likely to expose" someone from an identified vulnerable group to hate or contempt could be deemed hate speech.
The report also recommends the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal no longer be able to issue fines for those it finds in breach of the act. It would also allow for the awarding of costs when complainants were judged to be abusing the system.
"The dissemination of hate messages undermines equality and the right of individuals to be free from discrimination," said Lynch, according to a news release. "Canada does not recognize a hierarchy of rights; no single right is more important than any other."
"As a progressive, modern nation, Canada must navigate the conflict and find an appropriate balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom from hate," she said.
But Benson said she is importing ideas that are not part of Canada's legal tradition.
"There is no right to be free from hate," Benson said. "It is not in the charter, or in any reasonable constitution. Why? Because it is something that cannot be measured or properly controlled."
"Nothing in a free and democratic society should be banned because it hurts the feelings of others," said Benson. "We are not infants under the care of an all-seeing and very strict nanny."
Landolt also raised concerns about Lynch's transporting international law into a Canadian context. Canadian sovereignty has always demanded that any international law be supported by domestic legislation before it comes into effect, she said.
SKIPPING A STEP
"She wants to omit the intermediate step and apply international law," she said.
The report is a response to the Moon Report the CHRC commissioned last year at a cost of more than $50,000.
In November, University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon shocked critics and supporters alike when he recommended that the CHRA's section 13 be scrapped.
If legislators did not choose to do so, he made several other recommendations to tighten the definition of hatred and to create mandatory press councils to police the media.
"The whole idea of 'hate speech regulation' disconnected from imminent threats to actual violence is mischievous, which is why Moon advocated dropping it," said Benson.
"Hate is far too much in the eye of the sensitive citizen; violence is subject to a meaningful standard."