Canada’s “Schauprozess”—Show Trials

Publication, Civil Liberties, Barry Cooper

Executive Summary

In early September of this year, the American Political Science Association (APSA), the largest and most important professional association of political scientists in the world, met in Toronto— for the first time outside the US.

• Having been alerted a year earlier that Canadian Human Rights Commissions (HRCs) might be in a legal position to charge APSA members with “hate speech” for reporting controversial research, and perceiving this possibility as a threat to academic analysis of contentious public policy, the APSA and affiliated groups devoted four panel discussions to the Canadian experience with these bodies.

• The argument made in this paper is that HRC tribunals are essentially show trials not judicially respectable procedures, particularly those conducted under s.13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which deals with “hate speech” or, more accurately, with hurt feelings.

• Moreover, HRCs are administrative organs, which is to say, bureaucratic organizations, and so susceptible to all the internal incentives for bureaucratic growth available to other parts of the Canadian state, both in Ottawa and provincially.


• As a consequence they have grown, and with growth comes confidence and moral certainty. What is interesting in this process is not the conventional smugness characteristic of superior bureaucrats, but the equal confidence of their critics for whom they are emperors without clothes and worthy if not of hatred then of ridicule. Perhaps this genuine threat to free expression posed by Canadian HRCs will be laughed into oblivion.

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Barry Cooper, a fourth generation Albertan, was educated at Shawnigan Lake School, the University of British Columbia and Duke University (PhD, 1969). He taught at Bishop’s University, McGill, and ork University before coming to the University of Calgary in 1981. His teaching and research has tried to bring the insights of Western political philosophers to bear on contemporary issues, from the place of technology and the media in Canada, to the debate over the constitutional status of Quebec and Alberta, to current military and security policy. Cooper has published over 25 books and nearly 150 articles and papers that reflect the dual focus of his work; most recently he wrote It’s the Regime, Stupid! A Report from the Cowboy West on Why Stephen Harper Matters (2009) and Beginning the Quest: Law and Politics in the Early Work of Eric Voegelin (2009). He publishes a regular column in the Calgary Herald and other CanWest Global papers.

Cooper has lectured extensively in Europe, the United States, India, Australia and China. He has received numerous on-going research grants from public and private Canadian and American granting agencies. In addition he has received two major awards, the Konrad Adenauer Award from the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, and a Killam Research Fellowship.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Institute for Health Economics, the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, and the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary, and is a member of the Pennask Lake Fishing and Game Club, and the Philadelphia Society.