Friday, February 22, 2008

PEN CANADA Hammers Section 13! PEN Canada calls for changes to human rights commission legislation



PEN Canada calls for changes to human rights commission legislation


February 4, 2008 -- PEN Canada calls on the federal and provincial governments

to change human rights commission legislation to ensure commissions can no

longer be used to attempt to restrict freedom of expression in Canada.

Recent complaints in Alberta against journalist Ezra Levant and in Ontario

against Maclean’s magazine and its writer Mark Steyn raise disturbing questions

about the degree to which human rights commissions have taken it upon

themselves to become arbiters of what constitutes free speech.


PEN Canada believes this is not the role of human rights commissions and that

governments across the country need to make that clear both to their

commissions and to Canadians.


Neither Mr. Levant nor Maclean’s magazine and Mr Steyn published anything

that incited violence against the Muslim community although both have been

subject of complaints to commissions. Nor did their comments violate anyone’s

human rights.


As the Canadian Civil LIberties Association has suggested, human rights

legislation was designed to prevent discrimination in workplaces, in

accommodation and in providing goods and services to individuals. Commissions

were created to adjudicate complaints about such issues when they arose. They

were never designed to restrict the free expression of opinions.


“Whether you agree with Mr. Levant’s decision that the Western Standard should

publish the Danish cartoons about the prophet Mohammed or not, no one in a

free and democratic country such as Canada can seriously argue the magazine

should not have the right to publish them,” said PEN Canada’s national affairs

chair Christopher Waddell.


“That is equally true for Maclean’s magazine and the excerpt it published from

Mark Steyn’s book that led to the complaint against that publication.”

Neither complaints should ever have been accepted by a human rights

commission and both should be immediately dismissed.


To ensure there is no repetition of such attempts to constrain freedom of

expression through the guise of human rights legislation, PEN supports calls for

removal of subsection 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act which states that

it is discriminatory when individual or groups say or write anything that is “likely

to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.”


Similar wording in provincial human rights statutes should likewise be removed.