A week ago, a blog called Barrel Strength broke the news that Canada's Justice Department has struck an internal committee to review section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the abusive censorship provision.
Here's what Barrel Strength wrote:
At the request of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice has created a departmental committee to examine section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This is the section which bans hate messages distributed by the Internet. Members include lawyers from various branches of the department of Justice, including constitutional, human rights, criminal and Industry Canada branches.
I was excited by that news for a number of reasons, but the blog didn't cite any source for the news, not even indirectly. Although a number of other pro-freedom blogs ran with it, I wanted to confirm the news directly.
I'm pleased to say that I have received confirmation from a senior source at Justice that in fact such a review is underway. I understand that the report could be complete as soon as a month from now. It is unclear what will be done with the report -- whether it will simply be private advice to the Justice Minister and Prime Minister, or given to the Parliamentary Justice Committee for a public follow-up, or even form the basis of a bill.
There is good and bad news here.
The good news is bigger.
The good news is that the issue is still very much alive on Parliament Hill, and not just at the caucus level. Some skeptics had interpreted the Prime Minister's recent interview in Maclean's magazine as closing the door to reform of section 13, given his statement that he had "no plans" to reform it -- though in the same interview he denounced human rights commissions as "egregious", "abusive" and "out of balance". My interpretation of those remarks (which I wrote about here) was literal: that he had no plans at the moment, but that he wasn't ruling out getting such plans. And, given his distractions of late -- a global economic crisis, and an attempted Parliamentary putsch -- it seemed fair that the man focus on other priorities.
So I'm pleased with this news out of Justice -- it confirms that the momentum is still on our side, and that the PM's cautious way of speaking need not be interpreted in the most negative way possible.
There is another advantage to an internal review -- it is immune to the procedural shenanigans that have befuddled the Justice Committee. Like all other Parliamentary committees, the governing Conservatives have only a minority of seats on it. The problem wasn't that the Justice Committee members from other parties were hostile to reforming section 13; it's that the committee was so dysfunctional in general -- it had become a proxy battleground for disagreements between the government and opposition that, frankly, the opposition didn't want to turn into confidence matters in the House of Commons proper.
So, though Conservative Justice Committee member Rick Dykstra had indeed proposed his own review to that committee last fall, the committee never actually got around to dealing with it -- it was the victim of bickering that ground the committee to a halt.
An internal departmental review will avoid that problem.
But: an internal departmental review will only draw upon opinions within government. There are a diversity of views in the government, and the review seems to be drawing on different branches and different departments altogether. But that is not a full spectrum of opinion, including critical opinion by the people who have been abused by section 13. Frankly, it's not much more independent than the CHRC's token review undertaken by their hand-picked consultant, the well-paid Professor Richard Moon. Then again, Moon surprised everyone -- the CHRC most of all -- by calling for the repeal of section 13.
Perhaps there are critical voices within the bureaucracy. But it is a shame that there are not public hearings, as would happen with the Justice Committee, where outside experts and members of the public could participate. The CHRC's many victims will not be heard.
Another concern -- my biggest, actually -- is that the CHRC will mislead any Justice Department review, an no-one will be there to catch them. The CHRC has shown themselves untroubled by withholding key information, by breaching their own legal requirements as set out under their statute, and by breaching other laws, such as national privacy laws and access to information laws. They don't even have an internal ethics code. How do they feel about honesty over there? Put it this way: they hired a corrupt ex-cop, drummed out of her police force as bad news.
In other words, besides the inherent bias in an internal review towards keeping section 13 (a bias one might expect from bureaucrats and lawyers who work for the government) there is a worry that the CHRC will misrepresent key facts about its conduct, and those misrepresentations will happen in private, and won't be detected by the reviewers.
We need to know more about this review, and I'll keep poking around. I'd like to know who the final author of the review is, and its destination. I'd like to know who is consulted for it. But in the meantime, I'm just happy that the reform train is still chugging down the track!
It’s time to end the censorship of the extremist Canadian Human Rights Commission!
Stop Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act