CTV: “Proposal to abolish Alberta Human Rights Act under debate”

From CTV News:

If I can find a way to directly link it, I will update the post.  For now, you have to go to http://edmonton.ctv.ca/ and find it from the videos list in the middle.

The discussion in that video refers to Section 3 (the hate speech provisions) and not the whole act, although the heading seems to indicate otherwise.  For the moment, because this is where most of the far right’s ire is directed, fuelled by the fine levied against Rev. Stephen Boissoin for an anti-gay letter published in the Red Deer Advocate that was deemed to be hate speech — the fine was later overturned.  However, there is a contingent of the far right that wants to abolish the HRCs completely, so we will watch to see if what is proposed reaches beyond speech provisions.

Edmonton Rutherford Constituency Association (Edmonton Rutherford is also the riding of Fred Horne, the MLA who spearheaded the recent Alberta Health Act report). meet in Calgary later this month.

The further-right Wildrose Alliance Party policy already includes as part of their mandate the abolition of Section 3, although it is worded more nicely, as is their policy to soft-sell radical-right social agendas (such as their rhetoric elsewhere about “reforming” an “activist” judicial system):

“A Wildrose Government will amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to unequivocally protect freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”

So depending on where the governing Conservatives go with this, expect any spirited opposition to come from the three parties that are vying to be taken seriously as Alberta’s badly-needed progressive alternative: the Alberta NDs, the Liberals and the Alberta Party.  This may be the moment that distinguishes them.

Meanwhile, my thoughts on hate speech are mixed.  But while there may be flaws in navigating the shades of grey to define the balance between freedom of speech and speech that creates a hostile and likely-to-harm environment, I’m not yet convinced that total abolition of Section 3 is the answer.

3 thoughts on “CTV: “Proposal to abolish Alberta Human Rights Act under debate””

  1. Freedom of speech is no more an absolute than any other right. Rights exist in a state of tension with other rights.

    What the followers of Ezra Levant and Stephen Boissoin fail to recognize is that sometimes “just expressing an opinion” steps over a line and becomes active promotion of hatred and violence.

    I still maintain that had Boissoin’s letter been written about Jewish people (or Christians for that matter), he would have found himself cooling his heels in one of Her Majesty’s prisons.

    Free speech is a legitimate right, but it should not be viewed as a right that overrules the rights of others to live in relative peace and security in our society.

  2. Speech is a nebulous thing to try to regulate, and as far as I can see, will always need a context to determine when enough harm occurs that it has gone beyond “hurting feelings” (as some minimize hate speech to being) to causing incitement or real damage. And if it needs context, then there will never be any legal absolutes that will definitively solve the issue.

    That said, we can classify some types of speech:

    Incitement – Directly encouraging violence upon a person. Even many free speech proponents realize that our society can’t just allow someone to shout outright, repeatedly and relentlessly, that “we need to take up arms and kill all _______s,” especially in an environment where “_______s” are unpopular, and the person is likely to have others take him or her seriously and actually do so. And if someone does incite others to commit acts of violence, those proponents can often understand making them a party to the crime, in terms of conspiracy-related charges, etc.

    So when does it become incitement? The Protocols of the Elders of Zion never actually state within their covers that violence should be done to Jews, but the passages whip up such fear and hatred that many times throughout history, violence became the most logical conclusion.

    The same could be asked of the anti-gay sentiment bandied around today. Individually, statements that fear monger or pontificate about LGBT people are just statements — even quoting Leviticus 20:13. Cumulatively, the environment makes it likely that someone’s going to get hurt… and maybe even bullied enough that queer kids start taking their own lives in large numbers. Something’s broken, and yet the statements that drive it are intangible enough that it becomes difficult to know where that line should have been drawn.

    That’s the problem with the Boissoin decisions. Did it become incitement? Within a couple weeks of that letter being published, there actually was a violent attack, and it was felt by the AHRC but not felt by the appellate court that the letter helped to create an environment where that attack became likely to happen.

    Harassment – Something else our court recognizes is harassment, and again, context is everything. If someone tells their co-worker once that they think homosexuality is a sin, well, that could be justified under freedom of speech. But stating it multiple times, every time he or she passes their desk, in every email they send, in any conversation spoken loudly with others while near that co-worker, making an environment where it becomes very difficult and very unfriendly very fast and impossible to function… that’s “expressing an opinion,” but it’s also clear harassment. But what about activity that’s in between? Incidental conversation where it’s unclear if there was any intent… Context. And for those who might state that even the extreme case is justifiable, swap out “homosexuality is a sin” for “all religious leaders are pedophiles,” and they might feel differently.

    Hate speech is never free. It drives minorities underground, into hiding, into fear and shame, it becomes an impediment to fulfilling their dreams or even just going out to the grocery store. While freedom of speech is something definitely worth valuing, if proponents seek total unrestrained speech in law, then they need a clear solution to mitigate this effect. And leaving it up to “personal responsibility” is just not good enough, because people are just not that responsible — as witnessed by our entire code of laws.

  3. Further to the Alberta Human Rights Act proposal mentioned by CTV. It was, in fact, in reference to the speech section. Excerpt and link:


    “That debate was followed by another contentious proposal that called for the removal of a section of the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act. Supporters said the section, which deals with the publishing of discriminatory material, gives too much power to people who are “easily offended” and infringes on freedom of expression.

    “The motion was defeated after Education Minister Dave Hancock got up to defend the current legislation.

    “Posting a sign that says ‘No Person of Colour Allowed on Premises’ isn’t appropriate in our province,” he said. “This section (of the act) isn’t used very often, but it’s an important symbol of our society.”


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