February 4, 2008 -- PEN
to change human rights commission legislation to ensure commissions can no
longer be used to attempt to restrict freedom of expression in
Recent complaints in
about the degree to which human rights commissions have taken it upon
themselves to become arbiters of what constitutes free speech.
governments across the country need to make that clear both to their
commissions and to Canadians.
that incited violence against the
subject of complaints to commissions. Nor did their comments violate anyone’s
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
publish the Danish cartoons about the prophet
free and democratic country such as
should not have the right to publish them,” said PEN
chair Christopher Waddell.
“That is equally true for
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.