It’s Show Time!

Civil Liberties, Commentary, Frontier Centre, Role of Government

For those who have never taken the time to read dry legal documents, consider that Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act declares that hate speech is constituted by words that are likely to expose somebody to hatred or contempt–and what that has meant for Canadians. In early October, Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant gave testimony before the House of Commons justice committee, currently considering whether section 13 should be repealed. Their remarks, available on You Tube, provide a short but thorough examination of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) and its works.

They argue that the censorship implications of section 13 are an abomination in a constitutional democracy, that section 13 is the reason for so many complaints, and is why the entire administrative structure of this taxpayer-supported, government-backed human rights industry is broken past the point where it can be fixed. Any country, at least where freedom of expression and speech is truly valued, would have dissolved this outfit years ago.

Both Steyn and Levant have encountered Canada’s human rights bureaucrats first hand and written about their hair-raising experiences. The larger story, of an out-of-control bureaucracy that transformed itself from an organization charged with conciliation of differences among citizens into a politically motivated attack organ, should also trouble Canadians.

Because most of us are in favour of human rights, Canadians have accorded the benefit of the doubt to anything calling itself a human rights commission. That favourable impression has depended on maintaining a veil of ignorance over how these bodies actually operate. After Steyn and Levant (among others) made their operations public, it is clear to all but the willfully blind that their reputation is entirely undeserved.

Instead of dealing with genuine civil liberties, Canada’s human rights commissions have taken upon themselves such tasks as censoring cartoons and jokes, preventing RCMP instructors at Depot in Regina from raising their voices at recruits, or compelling a fast-food restaurant to keep an employee whose medical condition makes it impossible for her to comply with the company’s hand-washing policy.

They have invented new categories of crime and imposed lifetime bans on uttering opinions that hurt the feelings of someone or other. Senior counsel for the CHRC has advanced the opinion that their job is to end hate, a very human, though not particularly edifying emotion.

They aspire to become more than a thought or speech police; they seek to be an emotion police. In order to achieve these ambitions, members of the CHRC have joined neo-Nazi websites and posted messages on them in the hopes of provoking some dim-witted hatemonger to post something equally vile. Then one of their friends or even colleagues would be able to lodge a complaint.

In a real court (and to common sense) this is entrapment by an agent provocateur. In the kangaroo courts of Canada’s human rights commissions, it’s standard operating procedure.

Moreover, the CHRC employees are perfectly aware that what they are doing cannot stand the light of day. On at least one occasion they hacked their way into a wi-fi account of an Ottawa woman and posted their musings from her account. Incidentally, all this malfeasance by your tax-supported servants has been documented in sworn testimony by CHRC staff.

With such procedures at their disposal, it is no wonder that, until last month, the CHRC had a 100 per cent conviction rate –the envy in this respect of North Korea and Cuba, which occasionally stumble in the administration of justice. Naturally the CHRC announced it would appeal this stain on its perfect record.

At the centre of the power of the human rights bureaucracy is a justification of the censorship provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act, namely section 13. It is based on a massive yet legally untested expansion of a nearly twenty-year-old decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, in the “Taylor case.” In that decision the Court decided that hate speech by a neo-Nazi meant “extreme feelings of opprobrium and enmity” against a group, and not “subjective opinion of offensiveness.” Today human rights officials have completely reversed the ruling.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the controversy over the human rights commissions is the response of the Chief Commissioner of the CHRC. She has complained long and loud of unfair criticism and announced: “I have a file” on her critics. “I’m a public servant … and I’m not going to sit by.” As Terry O’Neill, who is on the list, wrote in the National Post early in October: “Big Sister’s been watching me.”

The duty of Parliament is clear. Remove not just the offensive section 13. Dismantle the entire Orwellian structure.

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 York 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 refl ect 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..