CBC News is reporting that a human rights complaint has been filed against Northwest Territories’ Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger over an incident that occurred during the December 9th visit to Aurora College by Canada’s new Governor General, David Johnston. Miltenberger, Member of the Legislative Assembly for Thebacha, is alleged to have asked math and business student Gabrielle Landrie to leave on three occasions. On the second occasion, he was reported to have said that the Governor General’s route through the campus was being re-routed to avoid her:
“Mr. Miltenberger walked up to us, looked at me directly, and said ‘You have to leave’,” said Landrie. “And I said, ‘oh?’, and he said ‘You spooked the governor general so you have to leave’.”
… “The amount of anger… you could basically almost taste it,” said Landrie.
When she was finished her work in the computer lab, Landrie did leave, going out of her way to avoid the Governor General and Finance Minister.
The Governor General’s Office has admitted that Johnston’s exit route was changed during his visit, but says that it was a timing issue and had nothing to do with Landrie. CBC is reporting that Miltenberger — who was considered a contender for Premier and is considered a potential future leader for the Territory — declined to comment, pending a hearing by the NWT Human Rights Commission.
Human rights commissions have increasingly come under fire from right-wing media, who have taken to exploiting Canadians’ unease with hate speech laws and conflate that issue with other instances of discrimination in order to dismissively portray human rights complaints overall as being about “hurt feelings.” At least one SunTV pundit, Ezra Levant, has openly declared that he wants to see the commissions completely abolished.
If Landrie’s story ignites in the Canadian press, it’s likely that ‘hurt feelings” would inevitably be the response from these corners. It’s important to remember that there’s far more at stake than feelings, and when a separate standard is used to restrict the freedoms of people sharing a characteristic to access facilities, services and public spaces, there’s far more than “hurt feelings” at work.
It is not clear if the requests were made at Miltenberger’s own initiative, at the request of Aurora College, or at the request of the Governor General, who is the ceremonial representative of the Queen in Canada.
Gender identity is an explicitly protected grounds of discrimination in NWT human rights law and policy.
Miltenberger, who has been an MLA since 1995, does not represent a political party in the Legislature, as the NWT does not use a party system.