Monday, June 02, 2008

Shame on us all

Today, the British Columbia Human Rights Commission(BCHRC)began hearing a complaint by a Muslim extremist against Maclean's, Canada's largest news magazine. The hearing, if ultimately supported by a court of final jurisdiction, may well determine the fate of freedom of the press and its Siamese twin freedom of speech, in this demented Dominion. The complaint is against Maclean"s for having the temerity to publish an excerpt from Mark Steyn's bestselling book, America Alone.

That such a hearing is taking place at all is an utter disgrace in a constitutional democracy. The BCHRC commission uses processes that thwart centuries of established jurisprudence from Magna Carta onwards that is intended to protect citizens against the capricious and arbitrary exercise of untrammeled government power. Lest you think I exaggerate, let me pass on one of the guiding principles inherent in the operation of Canadian human rights Star Chambers.

Truth is not a defence before a Canadian human rights tribunal, including this provincial rights grotesquerie in B.C. If you love freedom, this singular truth should be sufficient for you to conclude that cherished ancient rights are under attack in Lotus Land O'er the Rockies. But if you, like me, reside in more elegant and sophisticated Upper Canada, do not gloat. No.No.No.

When the Ontario Human Rights commission heard the same complaint from the self-same complainant, Mr. Elmasry, the head of the Ontario Commission launched a scurrilous diatribe denouncing Maclean's and Mr. Steyn, even after admitting that the local Star Chamber lacked jurisdiction under Ontario statutes to even hear the case.

Why would a sworn servant of the Canadian Crown abuse her position of public trust in such a way, you ask? Because she can, that's why. Here is what the Commission has to say about the case.
For immediate publication
April 9, 2008

Toronto -

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has decided not to proceed with complaints filed against Maclean’s magazine related to its publication of an article “The future belongs to Islam.” The complainants alleged that the content of the article and Maclean’s refusal to provide space for a rebuttal violated their human rights. The decision means that the complaints will not be referred to a hearing before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Denying a service because of race or creed can form the basis for a human rights complaint. However, the Ontario Human Rights Code does not give the Commission the jurisdiction to deal with the content of magazine articles through its complaint process.

Even though the Commission is not proceeding with these complaints, it still has a broader role in addressing the tension and conflict that such writings cause in the community and the impact that they have on the groups that are being singled out.

While freedom of expression must be recognized as a cornerstone of a functioning democracy, the Commission strongly condemns the Islamophobic portrayal of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and indeed any racialized community in the media, such as the Maclean’s article and others like them, as being inconsistent with the values enshrined in our human rights codes. Media has a responsibility to engage in fair and unbiased journalism.

“Clearly more debate on this issue is required in Canada,” commented Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall. “That’s why we issued a statement today.”

So Commissioner Hall condemned Maclean's (and by extension, Mark Steyn) without any hearing on the grounds that the accused acted contrary to values expressed in "our human rights code." Some values! If, as Ms Hall asserts, the media has a responsibility to engage in fair and unbiased journalism (what obligation? - not a legal one), what can be written about a commissioner and commission established to protect human rights, who does such a thing. Those "enshrined values" apparently do not include giving Maclean's, or Steyn, a chance to defend themselves before the commission. No jurisdiction. No hearing. Just a verdict.

It seems the Ontario Human Rights Code has not enshrined principles of due process, prudence, fairness, or common decency.

But for those demented fellow Canucks who rise in applause over such abuse of power and lament the jurisdictional limitation of Ms Hall and her ilk, fear not. Your time is coming soon - as soon as the end of the month.

The New Mandate of the Ontario Human Rights Commission

When the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006 comes into effect on June 30, 2008, there will be a number of significant changes in the mandate of the Ontario Human Rights Commission [OHRC].

Under the new Act, the role of the OHRC Commisson in preventing discrimination and promoting and advancing human rights in Ontario will be strengthened. The OHRC will expand its work in promoting a culture of human rights in the province. We will have the power to conduct public inquiries, initiate our own applications (formerly called ‘complaints’), or intervene in proceedings at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO). We will be able to engage in proactive measures such as public education, policy development, research and analysis.

The OHRC has also been given broad inquiry powers. The HRTO may refer matters in the public interest to the OHRC and may ask the Commission to conduct an inquiry. We will have the power to monitor the state of human rights and report directly to the people of Ontario. The OHRC may also apply to the HRTO to state a case to the Divisional Court where it feels the HRTO decision is not consistent with OHRC policies.

We will, however, no longer process human rights complaints under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Dealing with such complaints will be the job of the HRTO. A new body, the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, will offer independent human rights-related legal and support services to individuals, ranging from advice and support to legal representation.

We will continue to be guided by the Human Rights Code in all our work. The overall spirit of the new law is that the OHRC is one part of a system for human rights alongside the HRTO and Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

In some ways, the new law enhances the OHRC’s independence. We will file our annual report directly to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, instead of through the Attorney General, as we currently do. We will have the power to monitor and report on anything related to the state of human rights in the Province of Ontario.

Our powers to review legislation and policies, for example will be very broad. The new law refers to our ability to consider whether legislation is inconsistent with the intent of the Code. We will have a role in dealing with “tension and conflict” and bringing people and communities together to help resolve differences. Our current role as a developer of public policy on human rights is made explicit in the new legislation, as is the way those policies can be used in issues that are before the Tribunal.

Yes dear reader, the Ontario Commission's mandate is about to get broader. It says it is getting a role in setting public policy on human rights - a role in dealing with "tension and conflict." What gives me great confidence in what is about to happen is best summed up the following testimony by a Canadian human rights commissar respecting that old British concept of freedom of speech. Let us hear now, via Mark Steyn in the National Review's online The Corner, from Mr. Dean Steacy, the principle "anti hate" investigator for the Canadian Human Rights Commission. He summed up under oath, in Warman vs Lemire (page 4793 of the transcript), the approach we are about to see in Ontario.

MS KULASZKA: Mr. Steacy, you were talking before about context and how important it is when you do your investigation. What value do you give freedom of speech when you investigate one of these complaints?

MR. STEACY: Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value.

MS KULASZKA: Okay. That was a clear answer.

MR. STEACY: It's not my job to give value to an American concept.

Think about that. Think hard. Then recall the final stanza of that famous World War I poem by Canadian Army Lieutenant-Colonel John McRae In Flander Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wherever he may be, old King John must be smirking. Magna Carta indeed!


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