Now that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said a re-elected Conservative government would make defending religious freedoms a “priority” for Canadian foreign policy, perhaps he can turn his attention to freedom of speech/expression here at home.
I want, in fact, all party leaders to express their views on this pillar of our democracy, and tell us where they stand vis-à-vis human rights commissions and related tribunals at both the federal and provincial levels. I especially would like to hear whether party leaders believe Section 13 (1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) should stand as is.
Section 13 (1) of CHRA says in part that:
It is a discriminatory practice … to communicate … 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.
I believe the original purpose of Section 13 (1) was to overcome discrimination; not to censor speech. That was then, but despite best intentions, it now seems that Section 13 (1) is being used by minority groups and human rights agencies to control the expression of opinion and emotion. Apparently, and bizarrely so, truth is not a defence to a complaint under Section 13 (1) of the CHRA, even though such defenses are available in tort actions. The rationale is that the prohibition on discrimination is concerned with adverse effects, not with intent.
Keith Martin, the retiring Liberal Party member of parliament for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca introduced a private member’s motion, M-446, to delete Section 13 (1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Unfortunately, no political party took up M-446 and it languished without a vote.
The damage being done to our democracy would seem to be obvious to anyone reading our newspapers:
There was the widely publicized 2006 case of Ezra Levant publishing the infamous “Danish Cartoons” in his Western Standard magazine, over which Levant had a lengthy battle with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission. Then there was the 2007 Mark Steyn/Maclean’s case involving human rights complaints from the Canadian Islamic Congress about an article written by Mark Steyn and published in Maclean's magazine.
These two cases, probably more than any other, served to alert us to the clear and present danger faced by our basic rights and freedoms.
There have been several other cases of Canadians being called to account for things they have written that did little more than insult some person or group. Most recently, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal awarded a woman more than $22,000 after she complained that she was verbally harassed at an open-mic comedy show in Vancouver.
Canadians have sought to have this issue championed in parliament. Will election 41 produce such a champion?