In March, we reported that a “talking points” memo issued by the Justice Department instructed Conservative MPs to keep their mouths shut about Canada’s human rights commissions, private members’ bills on the HRC and specific cases before the commissions at the time.M-446, a private member’s motion from Keith Martin (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca) that seeks to limit the scope of HRC complaints to protect freedom of speech, has been introduced, but not yet debated. The memo instructed Conservative MPs to state, when asked about the motion, “I can assure you that when this bill comes before the House for debate, I will follow it closely and will arrive at a position at that time.”

It is galling for the Conservatives to silence their MPs and suggest they are not allowed to have an opinion on such an important issue as freedom-restricting human rights tribunals. Will they not participate in the debate or will they be merely observers? Doubtless, the Tories want to avoid charges they are against human rights or otherwise have a socially conservative “hidden agenda.” But that is no excuse for silencing the Conservative caucus.

What is notable is that while most Tories are silent – Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast) and Nena Grewal (Fleetwood-Port Kells) are exceptions – several Liberals have spoken out against the Canadian Human Rights Commission and are seeking to restrict its power to restrict genuine human rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press.

Keith Martin has introduced a motion limiting Section 13 investigations into speech that is “likely to expose a person or persons to hate or contempt.” He says that it unnecessarily restricts the free speech of Canadians. Dan McTeague (Pickering-Scarborough East) supports Martin’s motion, saying that there needs to be more balance in HRC proceedings.

Since then, another Liberal, Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal), a top human rights activist (and the justice minister in the Paul Martin government, who introduced same-sex “marriage”) told Dalhousie University law students he would consider limiting the power of the CHRC. He said he would consider introducing a private member’s bill restricting the right of the CHRC to investigate Section 13 complaints by requiring the Justice Department to sign off on any prosecution, just as it must for hate crime prosecutions. There is reason to be skeptical of Cotler’s intent to follow through, but at least he hinted at the need to rein in the HRCs. That is more than any Conservative MP has done.

There was a time when one would expect Conservatives to speak out against the country’s human rights commissions’ assaults on freedom of speech. But that was before Stephen Harper, a one-time critic of human rights commissions, had dreams of a majority government. So the Tories silence their caucus as several Liberals consider limiting the power of the HRCs.

It says something about the Conservative party’s leadership that it would attempt to silence its caucus on this issue. It says something, too, that caucus members would allow themselves to be silenced. And none of it is very re-assuring to those who want something done to limit the powers of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.