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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time to rein in human rights commissions

A recent article by Andrew Coyne reminded me of a quote by the English writer, G. K. Chesterton: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives.  The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent those mistakes from being corrected.”

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
- Edmund Burke

Chesterton was known for his pithy comments on the world, government, politics, and all sorts of other things. And the above quotation capsulates the paradox of modern political labeling: as hard as we try to use labels like conservative and liberal or progressive to differentiate political factions, we cannot avoid the fact that, too often, they deliver much the same results.

Let’s take the case of human rights commissions and tribunals across Canada. They have operated here for over three decades, yet none of the several jurisdictions under which they do so have bothered to ensure they act always in the best interest of individual Canadians. This despite the fact that, except perhaps in Alberta, parties of different political stripes have been in office during those years.

This parallel judicial system—where few of the usual rules of procedure, evidence and due process apply—has been allowed to flourish. These bastions of political correctness taken to insane levels have championed group rights at the expense of individual rights. This to the point where the right of members of certain groups “not to be offended” trumps freedom of speech in most, if not all, jurisdictions in Canada.

Look over this Web page which presents cases and decisions where the Canadian Human Rights Commission has played a role or has established jurisprudence in the area of human rights. Note the repetition of the name “Warman,” This is Richard Warman who, according to Wikipedia, “is an Ottawa-based lawyer active in human rights law. Warman worked for the Canadian Human Rights Commission from July 2002 to March 2004.”

Warman’s record vis-à-vis human rights cases has been thoroughly documented elsewhere by journalist Ezra Levant so I won’t go into it further. My point here is to highlight how peculiar it is that a single individual’s name should appear so frequently. But, then, so much about these agencies is peculiar. One individual being so prominent in these cases seems not to be cause for official concern. This makes me very uneasy, to say the least.

Here is just one example of how arrogant human rights commissions have been allowed to  become. Even when Ontario Human Rights Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall admitted her commission was not allowed by law to investigate a complaint because it had no jurisdiction over the content of a magazine article that was at the foundation of the complaint, she insisted on rendering her unofficial verdict. Without even hearing the complaint, this public adjudicator claimed it was her commission’s duty to speak out. And, of course, she spoke out against Maclean’s magazine which was defending its right to freedom of expression. Yes, the same freedom that the commissions have so frequently targeted.

For too long, these human rights commissions have acted as if they have a mandate to identify and correct social practices they consider unacceptable. In Ontario, the Human Rights Commission has called for the creation of a national press council to monitor the content of newspapers, magazines and Web sites. Such a step, according to the National Post:

“…making all writers, bloggers and broadcasters hostage to a national press council is merely the first step toward letting the Barbara Halls of the world decide what you get to hear, see and read.”

To add further to the fundamental unfairness of these commissions, one finds that a person—any individual or company—can be made to appear before a tribunal to defend against a complaint. And, although complainants are often provided with assistance, defendants are on their own and are expected to finance their time-consuming, often expensive legal defence. Ezra Levant is reported to have incurred $100,000 in legal expenses, even though the complaint against him to the Alberta Human Rights Commission was eventually withdrawn.

Sadly, whether our government is headed by Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien or Brian Mulroney, some things never change; some mistakes never get corrected.

3 comments — This is a moderated blog and comments will appear when approved. Please don’t resubmit if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, and please do not post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable.

  1. and yet you supported OBama who is considering bringing back the Fairness Docrine to regulate political speech... where's the consistency Russ?

  2. Consistency is there, if you want to find it, Jonathan.

    I supported the man who had a chance to defeat the worst, by far, of the American presidents since the WW II, including Jimmy Carter, and am against a serious threat to individual rights here in Canada. Both positions support good government. I don't blindly support someone just because they claim to "defend freedom, democracy, human rights, capitalism, and individualism."

    Geo. W. Bush left the US economy and foreign policy in absolute shambles, and you can't understand why I supported his opponent?

    I judge based on record and actions, not on empty rhetoric, and unfortunately, sometimes that means supporting someone whose politics I don't totally agree with.

  3. Well Russ, respectfully I trust you're not suggesting I do. That said, I'd take George W over Jimmy Carter and Obama any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Not that I agree with everything W did. I wrote a long column explaining why Bush failed conservatives.

    But Obama has continued most of W's policies. I imagine that is disappointing to you and other Obama supporters. 100 days is a short time frame, we'll know the real Obama after 1,000 (hopefully).