The Rights Wheel of Fortune

Worth A Look, Civil Liberties, Frontier Centre

Here’s your cutting-edge human-rights case for the day: Should a person with a penis be allowed to use the women’s locker room because he feels like he’s a woman?

If you answered “not necessarily,” please send a dollar to John Fulton, who owns a gym in St. Catharines, Ont. He’ll need it for his defence fund.

Three years ago, Mr. Fulton got a call from a deep-voiced stranger who wanted to sign up for his women-only gym. Two days later, he got a visit: The stranger turned out to be a preoperative transsexual. Mr. Fulton, perhaps with his female clients’ reactions in mind, hesitated. A week later, he received a lawyer’s letter demanding an apology and a cash settlement. He refused, and now is trapped in human-rights commission hell.

“I’m probably screwed here,” he said last week after a mediation session proved unsuccessful.
He’s right. Here’s why. The offended party gets a free lawyer. Win or lose, he pays nothing. But the defendant always pays. If he decides to put up a fight, he might have to spend $100,000, maybe more, even if he wins. The case could drag on for years.

Lawyers who act for people such as Mr. Fulton usually advise them to settle. That typically entails a modest sum of money paid to the complainant, an abject letter of apology, and an agreement to post a prominent sign guaranteeing (for example) equal treatment for all self-identified women, regardless of the configuration of their private parts. They must also agree never to disclose the settlement or any of the details.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission boasts that its mediation process achieves a phenomenally high settlement rate. Now you know why. Many companies have come to regard these payouts as just another cost of doing business.

Increasingly, those on the receiving end of the human-rights process are little guys. Just ask Ted Kindos. He runs Gator Ted’s, a popular family restaurant and sports bar in Burlington, Ont.

A medical-marijuana smoker liked to lurk around the doorway, self-medicating. When Mr. Kindos asked the toker to take off, the toker took him to the human-rights commission for discriminating against someone with a disability. Mr. Kindos was told that he could settle if he forked over $2,000 to his tormentor, and posted a prominent sign saying that Gator Ted’s accommodates customers with medical disabilities.

There’s just one catch. If Mr. Kindos agrees, he stands to lose his liquor licence for allowing a controlled substance to be consumed where alcohol is used. His lawyer thinks the courts should sort out this dilemma before Mr. Kindos gets nailed. Mr. Kindos’s loyal customers are outraged on his behalf. But the human-rights commission doesn’t agree. It has a full-blown tribunal hearing scheduled for this summer.

Oh, I could go on. I could tell you about the case of the mother who insists on her right to breast-feed anywhere she wants – in this case, not just at a swimming pool, but in the pool. When the woman who owns the pool objected (for fear of accidental baby poop), the mother declared: “It was my human right. She violated my human right to breast-feed and I knew that.” I could tell the one about the B.C. woman who failed to get a job after a manager complained that she had a hacking cough and “reeked of smoke.” She also had a record of a lot of sick days. She argues she was discriminated against because of her disability – an addiction to cigarettes.

All this would be funny if it weren’t so abusive to the taxpayers and the innocent. Our human-rights commissions have made it easy to exploit the system. Too many of the cases they accept are frivolous or marginal, and too many of their decisions are, to most of us, absurd. They are losing their legitimacy, and underwriting their own demise. At this rate, it can’t come soon enough.