Alberta Tories Should Shield Students from Politicized Human Rights Commissions: Section 16 of the Education Act should be repealed

Commentary, Education, Marco Navarro-Genie

Premier Alison Redford’s Alberta Conservatives have introduced measures in their Education Act that would elevate human rights commissions to enforce abstractions of social variety above the primary right of parents to be their children’s principal educators.

It isn’t only that Redford would be trampling parental rights in pursuit of Alberta Teachers’ Association votes. The crucial issue is that the act subordinates education to the soft totalitarianism of the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

It is difficult to imagine a greater public policy fiasco and a state branch in greater disrepute than human rights commissions. Human rights are essential, but their enforcement by commissions has an appalling record of violating religious liberty, censoring the press and abusing fundamental legal rights of Canadians.

Numerous legal malformations afflict the commissions. They lack definition of the terms they use to prosecute citizens; they offer no presumption of innocence; they don’t require their investigators to behave ethically and legally; they don’t prohibit third-party accusations; they welcome double jeopardy; they don’t require speedy procedures; they grant no right to cross-examine accusers; and they provide no procedural safe guards regarding the collection of evidence, entrapment, hearsay and self-incrimination.

While these afflictions alone should be enough to shut human rights commissions down, some people find them politically useful.

The commissions accept claims of rights violations and discrimination simply because a person feels offended. They have become the fighting arm of an equally useful malcontent class, a league of the perpetually offended.

National Post columnist Raymond de Souza has called the commissions “malevolent forces . . . in our public life.” Indeed, they have been home to faceless ill will. Investigators turned agents provocateurs have tried to tease out would-be violators from suspected neo-Nazi groups of which the investigators were also members.

In one case, an investigator illegally hacked into someone’s Wi-Fi to access questionable websites.

Human rights commissions encourage often frivolous and sometimes nefarious accusations by shielding complainants from countersuits to recover costs. It costs nothing to launch accusations through them, but the process is costly to taxpayers and economically punishing to those accused.

The case of Alberta journalist Ezra Levant is probably the most notable. Islamists launched suits against him for republishing the much-publicized Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The Alberta Human Rights Commission allowed itself to become a blunt weapon aimed at muzzling freedom of expression. Ezra fought back. Under intense scrutiny and weakening embarrassment, it dropped the proceedings against Levant, but not before subjecting him to nearly three years of strain and costing him $100,000 for his defence. The shenanigans cost Alberta taxpayers an additional half million dollars.

As if to reward the bullying commission, shame be upon them, the Alberta Progressive Conservative government increased its budget by 26 per cent and refused to adopt legal amendments limiting the commission’s inclination to reduce freedom of the press. Lindsay Blackett, then minister in charge of the file, conceded that his proposals to rein in the commission enjoyed support from the majority in caucus, but then-premier Ed Stelmach vetoed them.

The Education Act tacitly, yet dangerously, sets human rights commissions above educational goals, allowing commissions to enforce external agendas over home-schooling pupils in the privacy of their homes.

Under pressure now, Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has changed the bill’s preamble to say “that parents have paramount responsibility and the right to educate children with regard to religion, morality and ethical standards.” It’s a kind gesture, but the preamble changes nothing to the substance of Section 16 that activates human rights commissions to potential mischief.

Why would a premier who promised doing things differently now partner with the malformed commissions to enforce a standard of correctness in schools? Given that Albertans have essentially the same governing party caucus as when Blackett saw his limiting amendments killed, minus Stelmach’s influence, one wonders who is pushing this “education” agenda supported by human rights commissions.

It has long been an ATA dream to have a full monopoly of instruction over the totality of Alberta’s young. Scraping off any vestige of difference that home-schooling brings gets the ATA closer to that goal. As Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman reminds us, to some, the goal of public education is to make everyone equal.

A human rights lawyer hoisted to the premiership on the ATA’s shoulders is picking up the discredited tool of the human rights commissions in order to subject those who defy the ATA by their very existence within their homes. Caucus remains muffled, as before, enabling an alliance of social engineering forces.

All Alberta children deserve an unpoliticized education, shielded from the whims of human rights commissions.