The far-right Wildrose Party has been careful not to talk about social issues or privatization of health care, but at their party convention in Calgary over the weekend, they announced that one of their top policies is to abolish of Alberta’s Human Rights Commission (AHRC):
Though the party supports cutting government spending, the issue of the potentially huge costs of transferring tribunal issues to the already over-stressed court system was not raised, nor did the party address how it would fund such a move.
While reporting on this Monday night on his
Fox News North SunTV program, Spin Olympian Ezra Levant had Alberta’s Culture Minister, Lindsay Blackett (who oversees the Commission) on the ropes. While Blackett was clear on the value he sees in Alberta’s HRC, Levant backed him into a corner about changes that Blackett thought should have happened to the hate speech clause but didn’t — and ultimately coaxed out a confession that Premier Ed Stelmach was the reason the clause wasn’t revised or eliminated. Levant has previously accused Blackett of lying about this issue, and claiming that the Premier “put him in his place.” Which is offensive, but despite what Levant would have you believe, we don’t legislate taste, around here.
Levant has a long-standing crusade against human rights commissions, after he was brought before the AHRC for publishing a series of Danish cartoons that portrayed the prophet Mohammad as a terrorist and a pedophile. To that end, he wrote a book, Shakedown, which spins human rights institutions as bullying and abusive “kangaroo courts,” and appointed himself Canada’s champion of free speech, although he is not always consistent on the matter. He and
Fox News North SunTV appear to be trying to offend, lately, to exploit the appearance of persecution.
I will give him some consistency points for starting to go after Damian Goddard for availing himself of the Canada Human Rights Commission, even though Goddard’s story is one that the far right is sympathetic with. Damian Goddard is a former sports commentator at Sportsnet who was fired after he tweeted that “I completely and wholeheartedly support Todd Reynolds and his support for the traditional and TRUE meaning of marriage,” in support of a hockey player facing criticisms over similar comments made. He is taking Rogers Communications to the CHRC under the pretense that he was discriminated against because of his religion. But Goddard’s case is destined for the federal commission, and not tied to the fate of the AHRC.
Human Rights Commissions aren’t without their issues — such as the imbalanced current practice which covers the costs of the plaintiff but none of the costs of the defendant prior to a ruling, which already presumes a need to punish — and I’ve expressed before that I too tend to side with Levant on his particular case (which is why it has made him so effective a spokesman). But he has since conflated a faulty hate speech clause with all human rights legislation, and erased rights to work, find housing, access services and otherwise participate in society by painting it all as “the right not to be offended.” To Levant, reform is impossible, and it needs to be abolished entirely, commission, laws and all.
However, Human Rights Commissions are incredibly vital in that they’re often the only means that economically disenfranchised people have to take up a legal complaint — Legal Aid is overburdened, inconsistent and vastly unable to meet their needs by comparison. HRCs also serve as a lower-cost means to screen, mediate and resolve complaints without going to the expense of a full trial, thus taking a huge strain off the judicial system.
Some of the candidates in the running for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party have weighed in on the question. Alison Redford said she would reform the hate speech clause, but otherwise values the AHRC. Ted Morton’s response was interesting, referring to a “compromise” made in 2009 that he would adhere to, which would tie hate speech law so that one would have to demonstrate an intent to offend. The vast chasm between the Wildrose Party’s proposal and those of PC leadership candidates seems to me a sign of Wildrose’s inexperience, capacity for knee-jerk actions, and lack of careful consideration of the consequences.