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Should we abolish Canada's Human Rights Commissions?


Canada's Human Rights Commissions  

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We need a thread with a poll about Canada's Human Rights Commissions. (If you don't know, section 13 of the federal Human Rights legislation refers to restrictions on freedom of speech.) The thread is timely since there will be an important hearing before a Canadian Human Rights tribunal in Ottawa on Tuesday 25 March.

If I understand properly, Marc Lemire has been accused of violating a section of Canada's federal Human Rights legislation. I have tried to find a link to a good, unbiased, general description of Lemire's case but I have been unable to do so. Here's a link to Marc Lemire's Wikipedia entry.

Here's one quote:

A week from now, on March 25, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will hold a hearing in Ottawa where the defendant, Marc Lemire, can ask human rights commission staff if they’ve used pseudonyms to plant hate messages in online discussion boards. The answer to that is apparently yes, but the hearing will hopefully provide more details about what goes on behind the scenes. (Lemire is associated with the Heritage Front, a white supremacist group, but the idea that human rights agents may be planting hate messages is repulsive).
Halifax Chronicle-Herald

This tribunal hearing will be public. At issue, it seems, is how the tribunal obtained evidence against Lemire. (Lemire's case has been ongoing for several years now.)

I am surprised that there has been almost no reports of this in most MSM. I have heard almost nothing about this on the CBC/Radio-Canada. The French blogosphere is entirely silent. (Although French Canada is not immune to this issue. André Arthur sits in the House of Commons in part because the CRTC removed the license of his radio station.)

Rick Mercer has touched on the issue. Here's Rick Mercer's latest rant.

Keith Martin MP has a private member's bill to abolish section 13:

Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca Liberal MP Keith Martin is facing some heat over his private member's motion to delete a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act, but if anything, his motion doesn't go far enough.

Martin last week filed a notice of motion to scrap subsection 13 (1) of the act, which declares discriminatory the communication of messages "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt."

Vancouver Sun

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We have had previous diverse threads on the question of Canada's Human Rights commissions. Here are ones that I have found:

Supremacist group praises Liberal MP's proposal

Is publishing Danish cartoons in Canada a "crime"?

Transgendered NDP candidate

Flagrant Attack on Freedom of the Press

Woman suing gay bar in Montreal

And this thread in particular: This is America!, I Hope Canadians Feel the Same Way About Theirs

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As to my own thoughts, here is what I once wrote in response to a post of Michael Hardner:

Is there a law that forbids you from discriminating against Pepsi in favour of Coke? Are you not free to discriminate against a Jewish shopkeeper and choose a Korean one instead? Are you not free to be sexist and have your hair cut by a woman instead of a man simply because you prefer a woman?

Canada's Charter of Rights places restrictions only on how the government can treat us. It says nothing about how we treat one another. You are free to discriminate in your choice of spouse, hairdresser, friends, shopkeeper and so on.

Following an American practice, we have developed in Canada Human Rights Tribunals which examine cases of discrimination in private transactions. The tribunals typically examine only alleged discrimination by one side of the transaction. Needless to say, these tribunals now have cases backlogged for several years and they pick and choose according to their own agenda.

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Michael, it is logical that a Charter of Rights circumscribes the powers of the State (although the Charter need not be a single explicit document). The State, even democratic, is a monopoly. A local club or bar or hairdresser is not a monopoly. If you don't like their service, prices or clientele, you are free to go elsewhere. Do you think your decision not to use the services of a particular taxi driver should be subject to review by a human rights tribunal?

And, why do stores have the right to discriminate on the basis of poverty anyway? Should not stores treat rich and poor alike, without discrimination?

Link

While I think that's true, I'm not so sure that a person should be free to place an anti-semitic billboard across the street from a synagogue. It is not civilized to go into a stranger's home and then describe their spouse as fat and ugly. On this forum, we have all seen the new posters who arrive and insult immediately. It's not civilized. We are generally grateful that Greg readily bans trolls who post here merely to provoke mayhem. I would prefer to live in a civilized society and I think the State can foster this. I just don't know how this is to be organized.

But should the CHRC take on an Internet web site? One with little traffic? In some ways, this is a stoopid, ugly Internet Rabble vs. Free Dominion, flame war, skirmish. (MLW seems to have found a polite modus operandi to resolve these - Greg just warns and then bans a few posters.)

I also think that Richard Warman - one of the accusers against Marc Lemire - is a modern day Savonarola or McCarthy. People who operate this way are bound to finish on their own bonfire. I think Canada's human rights commissions have a similar destination.

This has the potential to become a third rail/wedge issue. If it ever occupied centre stage of Canadian federal politics, when the dust settled, the tribunals might be on the wrong side of the number count. But it would be a wrenching of Canadian federal politics and I think Canada has other more important issues to put on centre stage.

As a last point, a point that I have never seen noted elsewhere on whatever side of this issue, I still feel that the backlogs of Canada's human rights tribunals is their truly damning feature. Backlogs mean that they can pick and choose according to whim. They are arbitrary. As I posted before:

The following is from an internal report of the Canadian Human Rights Commission:

In 2001, through a detailed review of its 24 years of operation, the Commission determined that it had been accumulating a backlog of complaints since its inception. The backlog is the number of open cases in excess of the number that would normally be open if the Commission were completing as many cases as it was taking in each year. Although the Commission has reduced this backlog at various points in its history, it has never had the capacity to deal with all of the complaints filed in a given year. For example, in 2002, the Commission received 800 signed complaints, 200 more than it is resourced to handle under its traditional business model.

In 2002, a review of the Commission's service and operational standards concluded that, under current procedures, it takes up to two years to investigate a complaint. The review confirmed that the approach by which it had been processing complaints did not lend itself to setting reasonable service standards. The length of the complaint process and the fact that the backlog was endemic led to the conclusion that major reform to the business model was needed. The comprehensive reform of the complaint process began in the fall of 2002.

Canadian Human Rights Commission

Such backlogs for such a tribunal are an invitation to abuse. This is not justice in any sense of the term. It is arbitrary application of opinion.

Are human rights commissions arbitrary? Must we respect their decisions? Apparently not - according to Gerald Tremblay, the Mayor of Montreal. He just ignores decisions of human rights tribunals:

The Quebec Human Rights Commission has found in favour of four Montreal teens who claimed they were victims of racial profiling by the Montreal police.

The commission recommended in a decision made public yesterday that the city put measures in place to put an end to racial profiling.

It also ordered the city to pay $47,000 in damages plus interest to the four teens and their families for the incidents that took place in August, 2003.

But the cheque isn't exactly in the mail, Montreal's La Presse reports today. Mayor Gerald Tremblay says he doesn't plan to conform to the commission's recommendations and both the city and police say the officers did nothing wrong.

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The concept of restricting freedom of speech on the basis that it might offend someone is not only a mistake, it is a dangerous mistake. The potential for abuse in such a system threatens democracy itself. I recently looked into the case of Ezra Levant, the publisher of the Western Standard, who was brought before the Alberta Human Rights Commission in response to a complaint by a Muslim leader over Levant's publication of the Danish cartoons. Levant was forced to pay his own legal expenses throughout the several month process while he was investigated by the taxpayer-funded HRC. As Ezra Levant said himself, "The process is the punishment". Even if the charges are dropped eventually, the accused has still been put through hell.

After all, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear" (George Orwell), and "Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favour of free speech, you're in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favour of free speech" (Noam Chomsky).

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It's beside the pojnt raised by the OP but I'm not sure I have a lot of sympathy for Levant. Muslims find this sort of thing objectionable and they have a right to prosecute their case just as Levant (a Jew) would have a right to prosecute a case against somebody who might deny the Holocaust.

Levant is a publisher. He must have known what he was getting into.

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Last year the CHRC had about 1000 complaints and 900 or so were workplace related, 20 related to Section 13. However, Section 13 ones are those that get the most publicity - "hate messages". That's what has been used to go after Macleans, it's the section used by Richard Warman to go after people. It's the section that the private member's bill wants to rescind. I agree it has to go. Whatever value it might have had it is now being used to attempt to stifle legitimate speech.

I think our democracy is strong enough that we can put up with some ranting and raving.

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Last year the CHRC had about 1000 complaints and 900 or so were workplace related, 20 related to Section 13. However, Section 13 ones are those that get the most publicity - "hate messages". That's what has been used to go after Macleans, it's the section used by Richard Warman to go after people. It's the section that the private member's bill wants to rescind. I agree it has to go. Whatever value it might have had it is now being used to attempt to stifle legitimate speech.

I think our democracy is strong enough that we can put up with some ranting and raving.

What is legitimate speech? Canadian legislation does not define a hate offense in absolute terms, but in terms of the perception of the offended party. I'm sure you are a very good person, but this is the sort of defense that the white supremcists have been trying to raise for some time.

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It's beside the pojnt raised by the OP but I'm not sure I have a lot of sympathy for Levant. Muslims find this sort of thing objectionable and they have a right to prosecute their case just as Levant (a Jew) would have a right to prosecute a case against somebody who might deny the Holocaust.

Levant is a publisher. He must have known what he was getting into.

Prosecute a case using who and with who's money? HRC's are agencies with the power to persecute citizens outside the legal system using public funds. That goes against the whole concept of human rights.

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Last year the CHRC had about 1000 complaints and 900 or so were workplace related, 20 related to Section 13. However, Section 13 ones are those that get the most publicity - "hate messages". That's what has been used to go after Macleans, it's the section used by Richard Warman to go after people. It's the section that the private member's bill wants to rescind. I agree it has to go. Whatever value it might have had it is now being used to attempt to stifle legitimate speech.
MR, your post somehow implies that the non-Section 13 complaints are worthy. Are they?

Ezra Levant lists three recent spurious cases here that don't involve freedom of speech issues.

Here's another case:

More news from the front lines of important "human rights" work in Canada. The Ontario Human Rights Commission is grinding an Ontario restaurateur who asked a customer to stop smoking marijuana in his doorway.

Light up a cigarette in an Ontario restaurant, and you're breaking the law. Light up a marijuana joint, and the restaurateur is breaking the law if he tries to stop you.

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MR, your post somehow implies that the non-Section 13 complaints are worthy. Are they?

There are some pretty crappy ones there too. But I would suggest that unlike Section 13 the discrimination and harassment complaints are not as prone to being used for overt political purposes like Section 13 has been.

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What is legitimate speech? Canadian legislation does not define a hate offense in absolute terms, but in terms of the perception of the offended party. I'm sure you are a very good person, but this is the sort of defense that the white supremcists have been trying to raise for some time.

Given the subjectivity of what a "hate message" is and given the dubious use to which Section 13 has been put, maybe it's time to give it the heave.

With the advent on the Internet I can find all sorts of stuff here that is in likely violation of Section 13 but outside the control of the CHRC.

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It's beside the pojnt raised by the OP but I'm not sure I have a lot of sympathy for Levant. Muslims find this sort of thing objectionable and they have a right to prosecute their case just as Levant (a Jew) would have a right to prosecute a case against somebody who might deny the Holocaust.

Levant is a publisher. He must have known what he was getting into.

As a publisher he had every LEGAL right to report the news, Canada isn't governed by Sharia Law HisSelf ergo we can offend the prophet at will. Denying the Holocaust shouldn't be a crime either, nor should investigating it as a historian.

August1991 great post and well researched, I've been following the HRC and it's abuses for months. Read Ezra's blog post from today and yesterday, the CJC has become as vile as CAIR. CJC is nothing more that an organization that works behind the scenes to circumvent LAWS to censor people. I am appalled by this organization, I hope they don't have charitable status because they are nothing more than a lobby group that's goal is censorship and espousing socialist dogma.

I don't want the HRC abolished but I do want Section 13 also refered to as "Pre-Crime or thought crimes" abolished. Frankly only a hard core communist can justify Section 13, legislation like that has no place in a free and democratic country.

Conservative Blogs and forums are on fire discussing the HRCs and section 13, MSM hasn't touched the issue nor has Harper addressed the issue. I have no idea why both are ignoring the subject, perhaps because CJC and CAIR are involved so heavyly as complainants?

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I don't like censorship of an individual...control of speech, writing, etc. An even greater danger than what people are charged with is that for every one who takes a risk to speak freely, there's a hundred who are intimidated 'to shut up'.

Pubic intstitutions, corporations, etc. are fair game for being held to standards. I have no problen with the 'Nazi Party' being held accountable but not when an individual member speaks out on his own volition.

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As a publisher he had every LEGAL right to report the news, Canada isn't governed by Sharia Law HisSelf ergo we can offend the prophet at will. Denying the Holocaust shouldn't be a crime either, nor should investigating it as a historian.

Denying the Holocaust can be brought before the courts because those who are offended by such can claim it as an act of hate. That is Canadian law. Personally I think that it is a good law because it forces such issues into the courts. Whether or not I agree with it is immaterial. The importat thing is to bring these issues before the courts. Legislation is imperfect. Our best defences against it are currently the courts and the the press. Both are imperfect too, but it is better than being subjected to the political machine on its own. This, such as it is, is how our 'constitution' is presently defined.

It isn't perfect, but it is a bloody lot better than totalitarianism.

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I agree that denying the Holocaust should not be a crime. If you start saying its a crime to suggest something in public, what kind of a society have we become? Are we so insecure about our society's judgement that we have to use the force of law to prevent certain ideas from even being suggested in public? I personally despise Holocaust deniers, but I accept their right to express their opinions, just like everyone else.

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I agree that denying the Holocaust should not be a crime. If you start saying its a crime to suggest something in public, what kind of a society have we become?
Sean, I think you are confusing hate provisions in Canada's Criminal Code and the free speech provisions of various human rights commissions.

Even different provinces have different provisions in their human rights legislation. This Toronto Star columnist makes this distinction:

The media, including the Star, also vehemently oppose human rights tribunals regulating the press.

They do so to protect press freedom. They also point to disparities in the human rights codes in different jurisdictions. Ontario's refers to signs, symbols, emblems etc. but not the media. The federal statute, and the ones in Alberta and B.C., are clearer, which is why the tribunals there heard the cases they did.

It follows, then, that the federal and British Columbia commissions have no option but to hear the complaint against Maclean's. Otherwise, they will stand accused of double standards.

As for the Ontario commission, it needs to address the irony that it may rule against a crackpot holding up a sign, "Gays pose a threat," but not a media outlet conveying a similar message to a far wider audience.

Haroon Siddiqui

It is curious that some commentators are now arguing that this is only becoming an issue because Moslems are defending themselves. On the contrary, this is an issue now because Ezra Levant and Macleans are putting up a vigourous defence.

Incidentally, The National Post published a long and detailed article about the significance of tomorrow's hear in Ottawa:

Next Tuesday, at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in Ottawa, one of Canada's most prominent white supremacist propagandists, backed by the legal team that defended Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel, will put the country's entire human rights bureaucracy on the witness stand.

After months of closed-door wrangling, a constitutional challenge, an appeal to federal court and a blizzard of legal motions, Marc Lemire can now interrogate, under oath, two investigators of the Canadian Human Rights Commission about why they posted provocative comments on his and other ultra-conservative Web sites. Much credibility hangs on their answers.

The curious thing about the hearing, which will make it a crucial moment in the history of Canadian human rights law, is that Mr. Lemire, the last president of the now defunct neo-Nazi Heritage Front, enjoys the qualified support of a Liberal MP, PEN Canada, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association -- even a leader of B'nai Brith Canada.

National Post
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I agree that denying the Holocaust should not be a crime. If you start saying its a crime to suggest something in public, what kind of a society have we become? Are we so insecure about our society's judgement that we have to use the force of law to prevent certain ideas from even being suggested in public? I personally despise Holocaust deniers, but I accept their right to express their opinions, just like everyone else.

There can never be a justification for censoring debate on historical events. They should always be open to scrutiny.

We turned Ernst Zundel into a martyr of the right by going after his Holocaust-denial teachings. I like the US approach better. He was on 60 Minutes (can you imagine him being interviewed by Peter Mansbridge? :unsure: ) where I watched Mike Wallace turn him into dog-turd. Better that than giving him a forum like a human rights tribunal where he can rant on for weeks at an end.

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That's a good point. By putting people on trial for "speech-crimes" we are giving them a forum to voice their opinions and turning them into martyrs around whom civil liberties groups must rally. On the other hand, if we just left them alone, they would languish in obscurity, and be ostracized by society and rejected by their peers. I understand that the Human Rights Commissions and the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code are different things, but they are highly related in the sense that they are both attempts to censor free speech in Canada.

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That's a good point. By putting people on trial for "speech-crimes" we are giving them a forum to voice their opinions and turning them into martyrs around whom civil liberties groups must rally. On the other hand, if we just left them alone, they would languish in obscurity, and be ostracized by society and rejected by their peers. I understand that the Human Rights Commissions and the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code are different things, but they are highly related in the sense that they are both attempts to censor free speech in Canada.

And we sure as hell don't need both of them. Dump the provisions such as Section 13 and let the Criminal Code deal the realy bad hate speech situations. But even that isn't needed. Take David Ahenakew. With his anti-Semitic rant he did far more damage to himself than the puny fine that the courts would penalize him with.

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No we shouldn't. If we do it won't be long until someone starts asking if we should abolish human rights too.

Hardly. Your answer shows a distinct lack of understanding of our existing laws.

Not that those laws are worth much today - the successful re-engineering of our society by the libs has made many of those laws useless at best - however the human rights commissions are simple a place for radicals to spout, the lefties to have "special people" inserted to issue "judgement" and the media to give them all a platform.

The commissions as a whole, those involved with their decision making process and their decisions are not worth the sweat off my left testicle.

Borg

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These Commissions don't protect the rights of any human, other than a non-existant right not to be insulted. They are "hurt feelings" commissions and thus should be abolished.

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No we shouldn't. If we do it won't be long until someone starts asking if we should abolish human rights too.

We have no need for Human Rights Commissions and Human Rights Tribunals.

We can as easily provide a section of the regular courts, similar to a small claims court to assist those with a legitimate grievance under the CHRA.

CHRA Section 13 has to go. It is very bad law, improperly written using undefined terms and allowing conjecture.

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There are some pretty crappy ones there too. But I would suggest that unlike Section 13 the discrimination and harassment complaints are not as prone to being used for overt political purposes like Section 13 has been.
Maybe. I happened to pick four that have surfaced in the news. On a different thread, I listed about 10 others (all having nothing to do with Section 13) that I discovered after a cursory Google search.

IMV, it is the backlogs that damn these Commissions more than anything. (The Supreme Court ruled against Canada's medical system because of waiting lists.) In teh case of the Commissions, the backlogs are an indication that the Commission rules are open-ended. Anyone can find a way to file a grievance. As a result, the bureaucrats are under pressure to weed out cases unworthy of study. (Filing a case is not easy.) This makes their decisions arbitrary.

Any bureaucracy with a backlog is strong evidence that the bureaucracy is flawed. The Soviet Union collapsed because of backlogs.

In a sense, if we don't abolish these Commissions, they'll collapse under backlogs and their own incompetence. Unfortunately, before that happens, they can inflict alot of harm. They definitely need reform.

No we shouldn't. If we do it won't be long until someone starts asking if we should abolish human rights too.
Your naivety is beguiling and in a way eyeball, you simply explain why the MSM and most politicians are afraid to touch this issue. And the explanation touches on the oldest trick in the politial book - greater than the supposed "Big Lie".

The phrase "Human Rights Commissions" is akin to the "Widows and Orphans Fund". Who wants to go down in history as the guy who abolished the "Human Rights Tribunals"? Are you against human rights? Who wants to abolish the "Widows and Orphans Fund"? (Now then, thinking this one through, if I were a Hell's Angels criminal, I'd set up a "Widows and Orphan Fund" and do all my transactions through it. No one could abolish me.)

In the US, it was the "House Un-American Activities Committee" and Joe McCarthy used the term "patriotic American". It sounds klunky now but in the 1950s, who wasn't a patriotic American? Well, Warren Kinsella is supposedly defending human rights in Canada because he supports Canada's Human Rights Commissions.

IOW, the oldest trick in the book is to get your smiling picture in the local paper helping an old lady across the street, and then surreptiously steal her wallet. The financial planner who steals you blind won't have a two-day stubble and smell of whiskey. He'll be a young earnest man, clean shirt, well-spoken and polite. He'll hang up the phone and say that he was just speaking to his grandmother. And then he'll take your money.

Warren Kinsella, the Liberal Party and apparently now Canada's Human Rights commissions have used grandmothers and motherhood to achieve their own agenda.

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It's beside the pojnt raised by the OP but I'm not sure I have a lot of sympathy for Levant. Muslims find this sort of thing objectionable and they have a right to prosecute their case just as Levant (a Jew) would have a right to prosecute a case against somebody who might deny the Holocaust.

Levant is a publisher. He must have known what he was getting into.

???

Levant would have no such right. There are NO laws broken in Canada when someone denies that the holocaust happened.

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Denying the Holocaust can be brought before the courts because those who are offended by such can claim it as an act of hate. That is Canadian law. Personally I think that it is a good law because it forces such issues into the courts. Whether or not I agree with it is immaterial. The importat thing is to bring these issues before the courts. Legislation is imperfect. Our best defences against it are currently the courts and the the press. Both are imperfect too, but it is better than being subjected to the political machine on its own. This, such as it is, is how our 'constitution' is presently defined.

It isn't perfect, but it is a bloody lot better than totalitarianism.

No, you are wrong. Denying that it happened would not be a crime at all in Canada. Saying that it should happen again and asking people to do so probably would be.

People need to know what they are talking about here.

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