Pierre Trudeau famously reminded Canadians that there is a difference between a crime and a sin; now, some 40 years after his infamous Omnibus bill, the distinction has never been less clear. Despite their noble purpose of attempting to eliminate discrimination, human rights tribunals have proven to be a remedy that is worse than the problem they were created to solve. By using government power to intervene in personal disputes, these tribunals have dangerously mixed the public and private spheres – a combination that is incompatible with liberty. They have become a kind of post-Christian Holy Office, presiding over hearings about offences in which society has no direct interest.

These tribunals adjudicate in cases where human rights have been violated without a crime being committed. This in itself is a rather strange idea: if there is harm that does not reach the threshold of crime, what kind of harm is it?

Surprisingly, in a human rights commission hearing, there is no discovery process, nor any strict rules of evidence; indeed, there is no real need to establish the facts of the case. Since the complaint itself is taken to prove that there has, indeed, been a violation of human rights, there is, in effect, a procedural assumption of guilt, not of innocence. Moreover, no effort is made to disprove or contradict offensive statements that prompt human rights complaints (which would be essential in a case of calumny or slander). The position of these tribunals is that if offence has been taken, human rights have been violated.

Offence, then, is tantamount to proof of discrimination. Thus, a human rights tribunal cannot punish crime, because the harm is not physical, nor even psychological, in any demonstrable sense. In a human rights case, self-esteem and not psyche is at issue. In other words, the defendant of a human rights complaint is being accused of moral harm, or what another age would have called a sin.

For many years, politically correct Canadian elites have worried the country is always only an election away from return to the bad ol’ days of Christian despotism. Secularists still intone about the dangers of evangelical Christianity, even as pastors and priests are being interrogated, silenced and fined. But now, medieval prohibitions are finding their place in modern Canada, precisely because the most repressive elements in our society clothe themselves in the most progressive language. In creating the means to stamp out all traces of an imagined repression, enlightened anti-religious activists have instituted their own inquisitorial process. If Canada descends into tyranny, it will not be because of Christian values, but for want of them.

By blurring the distinction between crime and sin, and by operating on a presumption of guilt, these extra-legal bodies have had a chilling effect on some of our most fundamental liberties, including the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and especially, freedom of religion.

Human rights tribunals have seriously harmed the very rights they were created to protect.