|The controversy over human rights legislation and its attendant federal and provincial commissions – as well as the conduct of their employees and associates – continues to simmer despite the usual slowdown in political activity during the summer season.
Two significant recent developments that have kept the pot boiling were the dismissals of human rights complaints against Catholic Insight and Maclean’s magazines.
In the former case, Edmonton homosexual activist Rob Wells had filed a nine-point human rights complaint in February 2007 against Canada’s monthly Catholic magazine of news, analysis and commentary over what he felt was the publication’s hateful coverage of homosexuality. Almost a year-and-a-half later, and at an investigator’s recommendation, the matter was dismissed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
However, for Catholic Insight, as Ezra Levant has noted, the process was the punishment. Despite not being guilty of anything, the publication was still on the hook for thousands of dollars in legal fees necessitated by the need to respond to Wells’s initial allegations and an investigator’s subsequent report.
Exacerbating its travails were the actions of another, Toronto-based homosexual activist who has taken it upon himself in recent years to – again unsuccessfully – harangue Catholic Insight in areas other than human rights legislation. Specifically, the activist has attempted to strip the magazine of postal subsidies available to it under Heritage Canada’s Publications Assistance Program and to get it into trouble with the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
It has also been found that some individual has been attempting to obtain more information about Catholic Insight through freedom of information legislation, apparently with an eye to launching yet more legal-based actions against the publication.
Although Catholic Insight has been given a clean bill of health in all areas in which homosexual activists have been agitating, legal bills have piled up to around the $20,000 mark. Fortunately, as founder and editor Father Alphonse de Valk notes, subscribers and supporters of the magazine – both inside and outside Canada – have stepped up to the plate handsomely and the magazine is well on its way to paying off its debts.
To forestall any future frivolous actions, the magazine is looking at the prospects of launching its own legal proceedings against the homosexual activists who have so needlessly harassed the magazine, with a view to recouping some or all of the monies spent defending against their unnecessary actions.
Meanwhile, in a decision released June 25, the CHRC dismissed the Canadian Islamic Congress’s complaint against Rogers Media Inc. over Mark Steyn’s October 2006 article inMaclean’s, “The Future Belongs to Islam.” The CIC had alleged the article had the effect of exposing Muslims to hatred and contempt.
The commission did refer to the obligation to interpret human rights legislation in a manner that minimally interferes with rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It concluded: “The views expressed in the Steyn article, when considered as a whole and in context, are not of an extreme nature … There is no reasonable basis in the evidence to warrant the appointment of a tribunal.”
Maclean’s responded to the decision by noting that, though gratified by the result, it will continue “to assert that no human rights commission, whether at the federal or provincial level, has the mandate or the expertise to monitor, inquire into or assess the editorial decisions of the nation’s media … We enthusiastically support those parliamentarians who are calling for legislative review of the commissions with regard to speech issues.”
As all of this was going on, the spectre of MP Keith Martin’s private member’s motion M-446 hangs in the air. That motion, put forth this past January, seeks to remove from the Human Rights Act the problematic subsection 13(1), which makes it an offence to disseminate “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
That is the provision under which a number of Canadian media outlets and individuals – interestingly, mostly of a conservative orientation – have been brought before human rights bodies. Even if Martin’s motion fails to progress through the legislative process, the Canadian Human Rights Commission – perhaps feeling the sting of increasing criticism – has launched a comprehensive policy review of how best to address so-called hate messages on the internet. The review, to be headed by Professor Richard Moon of the University of Windsor, is expected to be complete by this fall.
Critics of the human rights process, particularly conservative bloggers – the most prominent of whom is Ezra Levant (www.ezralevant.com), himself a target of human rights persecution – are expressing skepticism not only of the CHRC’s willingness to examine itself, its practices and the legislation that governs it, but the sincerity of the dismissals of the actions against Catholic Insight and Maclean’s.
The CHRC chose to drop the cases against the magazines “because of political heat,” suggested Levant. “Every single Section 13 thought crimes case the CHRC has taken to the CHRT ‘court’ has resulted in a conviction. In other words, if the CHRC takes you to ‘court,’ there’s really no point in showing up – you’ll be found guilty.”
Levant added that although the CHRC let Catholic Insight off the hook, investigator Sandy Kozak nonetheless alluded to the “offensiveness” of some of its content. “Catholic Insightpromulgates the teachings of the Catholic church … For Kozak to summarily judge Catholic doctrine as ‘offensive’ is beyond grotesque.”
In May, the Ontario Human Right Commission said it would not hear the case againstMaclean’s, but in dismissing the complaint, said the commission regretted its lack of jurisdiction. Barbara Hall, the head of the OHRC, called the material in Steyn’s article “offensive;” even when a commission does not hear the case it can render a judgment about the material in question.
The case against Maclean’s filed with the B.C. Human Rights Commission was heard in June, but the tribunal there has set no date for the release of its decision. The BCHRC apparently did not have a problem with the fact that it does not appear to have jurisdiction to deal with the complaint against the magazine, refusing to hear testimony from experts on freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But it did hear evidence from aggrieved Muslims citing websites with no link to Maclean’s or Steyn.