In Jennifer Lynch’s opening statement before the Parliamentary Justice and Human Rights Committee, the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission made the case for her federal agency without addressing the specific concerns of her critics (this newspaper, Ezra Levant, Mark Steyn, and others) that the extra-judicial body is unnecessary in the battle against hate. She offered standard human rights commission industry boilersplate about hate being an evil that needs to be stamped out and that in a democracy we need to balance rights — the right to be free of discrimination and the right to freedom of expression. She cites the CHRC’s dismissal of a complaint against Maclean’s over its Mark Steyn cover story on Islam as evidence that the commission has struck the right balance. Lynch says:
This is the only complaint that we have ever received against mainstream media and we dismissed it. This clearly demonstrates that the Commission does not regulate offensive speech. Any other suggestion is false.
What she doesn’t note is that there have only been two cases dismissed — the one against Maclean’s and one against Catholic Insight. These occured only after high profile critics such as Levant and Steyn started shining a light on the human rights commission industry and how it operates. I would suggest that the CHRC would have found the Steyn article offensive if Rogers Communications, the deep-pocketed, corporate giant behind Maclean’s, hadn’t pushed back hard and if the commission’s critics hadn’t been exposing how these commissions are not like normal courts. It seems the CHRC made a political calculation to avoid further controversy rather than risk further embarrassment at the hands of Steyn, Maclean’s, their lawyers and various bloggers. The CHRC and its provincial cousins have been in the business of running roughshod over individuals who didn’t have a huge corporation willing to pay their legal fees.
I would also point out that Lynch wasn’t entirely truthful in her claim that “clearly” the “Commission does not regulate offensive speech.” She made that statement after explaining that the CHRC did not find Steyn’s article “extreme” and therefore dismissed the complaint. However, she utterly fails to acknowledge all the cases in which the Commission did follow through with the complaint, found the accused guilty and fined them; all those cases were examples of regulating speech. were they not? In fact, reading the whole opening statement it is clear that Lynch thinks regulating speech under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is a very important part of the Commission’s work. What might be more accurate for Lynch to say is that the Commission does not always try to regulate speech.
I remind readers of something that Alan Borovoy, the general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and one of the people instrumental in getting human rights commissions founded in the 1970s, said about regulating free speech: it is impossible to draft speech regulations that silence certain (perceived) odious views without endangering all speech.
For more about the human rights commission industry — a history of provincial and federal cases, how it is not like real courts and what can be done about them — see my February 2008 Interim cover story, “Human rights tribunals — curb ’em or close ’em” and Interim Publishing’s book The Tyranny of Nice.