Thursday, September 3, 2009

NATIONAL POST EDITORIAL: End the witch hunts for good

End the witch hunts for good

http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/story.html?id=1957347

 

National Post

Published: Thursday, September 03, 2009

 

Finally, a human rights commission decision that makes sense. Yesterday, a senior member of Canada's human rights apparatus declared that the power the Canadian Human Rights Commission has taken on itself to monitor hate speech on the Internet is unconstitutional.

Ruling in a case against Marc Lemire, webmaster of the extremist freedomsite.org,Canadian Human Rights Tribunal chairman Athanasios Hadjis concluded Sec. 13(1) violates defendants' Charter right to freedom of expression because it gives the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) authority to impose penalties such as fines on those it finds guilty. Mr. Hadjis, himself a human rights lawyer, argued that while the Supreme Court had found the section legal in 1991-- when its strongest provisions merely compelled the complainant and defendant to mediate their differences -- since then the addition of monetary penalties and forced apologies has amended the act to the point where it is no longer in harmony with the Charter.

The opinion does not "strike down" the hate-speech provisions of federal human rights law, as has been widely reported. The offensive section of the federal rights legislation is still on the books. But as Mr. Hadjis explained "a formal declaration of invalidity was not a remedy available" to him. All he could do under the existing law is "simply refuse to apply these provisions for the purposes of the complaint against Mr. Lemire." Now it us up to Parliament to do the right thing: Repeal Sec 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act and stop witch-hunt prosecutions by human rights investigators.

To understand why, one need look no further than the tax-funded persecution of Mr. Lemire.

CHRC employees and their sympathizers in police racism units and activist groups around the country logged onto Mr. Lemire's site under phoney names. Occasionally to cover their tracks, CHRC staffers even hacked into the wireless Internet account of a women whose apartment was near their offices. When there were insufficient hateful postings on Mr. Lemire's site, these staffers and their associates would post racist, homophobic and pro-Nazi statements themselves under their assumed names then encourage human rights activists to bring hate-speech complaints before the commission over those postings.

At Mr. Lemire's hearing last year, CHRC investigators even admitted to letting one such complaint-filing activist, Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman, go through their files and make suggestions about how they could refine their prosecutions.

Mr. Hadjis dealt with very little of this unethical conduct in his ruling. What he did say is significant, though, and very welcome. He concluded that the Human Rights Act is "inconsistent with s. 2(b) of the Charter, which guarantees the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. The restriction imposed by these provisions is not a reasonable limit within the meaning of s. 1 of the Charter."

This is the second time in under a year that the CHRC (and by extension, Parliament) has been told that 13(1) is inconsistent with free democratic debate. Last year, University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon, acting as a paid constitutional consultant, told the CHRC there was no way it could investigate and adjudicate hate-speech complaints consistently. Therefore, they were unable to assure the equal protection of everyone's Charter rights, so they should stop trying.

Since the controversy over rights commissions' power to censor political speech arose two years ago when the CHRC and three provincial commissions agreed to investigate complaints against prominent writers Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, CHRC chairman Jennifer Lynch has claimed she welcomed debate on the future of government rights bodies. Yet late last spring, she refused to attend parliamentary hearings on the CHRC and later blasted the committee's chairman for using unreliable sources and charged that the commission's critics had no right to criticize its tactics.

In light of yesterday's decision, perhaps our politicians will finally screw up the courage to stand up to the forces of political correctness, such as Ms. Lynch, and strip them of their power to monitor and sit in judgment of Internet speech.