Tuesday, June 10, 2008

NIAGARA FALLS REVIEW: Human rights commission review is common sense

Human rights commission review is common sense

Niagara Falls Review | June 10, 2008

If there is any common sense in Ottawa, and that may be asking a lot, then the federal government's Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will follow Rick Dykstra's advice.

The St. Catharines MP has introduced a motion to have the committee review the controversial section 13.1 of the Canada Human Rights Act that is at the heart of two recent high-profile human rights cases.

Dykstra is also asking for a review of the mandate and operations of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

In the defence of the cherished right of freedom of speech, the committee must get past its petty squabbling over the Chuck Cadman affair and undertake this review, and then act to make changes to the way human rights commissions in Canada function.

One of the high-profile cases involves a national magazine and the author of a controversial book. The other, the publisher of a defunct magazine and some controversial editorial cartoons.

But both come down to freedom of speech and the limits, if any, to that freedom.

In a modern, secular, multicultural society as ours, freedom of speech is paramount.

Attempting to set limits on that freedom because a person or group of people are offended by what another says or writes is a slippery slope upon which to tread.

It should be beyond the scope of a quasi-judicial tribunal to determine what constitutes a limit on a freedom so fundamental that it is protected in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In theory, the idea of human rights commissions is a good one.

The crux of the Canada Human Rights Act is that "people should not be placed at a disadvantage simply because of their age, sex, race or any other ground covered by the Act. That is discrimination and is against the law."

Unfortunately, discrimination does exist and people do need to be protected from it.

But in protecting people from discrimination, various human rights commissions across Canada have exceeded their mandate in attempting to place limits on freedom of speech, largely because of section 13.1 that makes it an offence to "expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt" by phone or Internet.

It must be made clear that being discriminated against and being offended are two entirely different things.

Offending someone is bound to happen in a society that values and protects freedom of speech and that is a freedom that we must not let go.

When that offence crosses the line into a hate crime, there is legislation to deal with that and a legal system of courts, lawyers and judges to regulate it.

That is as it should be.

Dykstra's request for a review of the commission - which the committee is expected to vote on shortly - is a good first step.

But ultimately, we'd like to see that review support Liberal MP Keith Martin's private member's bill to abolish or significantly amend section 13.1.


Story at: http://www.niagarafallsreview.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1066330