Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Calgary's Bishop Henry supports bill to curb controversial Section 13

Calgary’s Bishop Henry supports bill to curb controversial Section 13

Written by  Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA - Calgary Bishop Fred Henry has come out in support of a bill introduced by a Conservative MP that would strike the controversial Section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Henry, who faced human rights complaints in 2005 for writing a pastoral letter defending traditional marriage, said Section 13 and its provincial counterparts “need to either be eliminated or subjected to an extensive re-write.”

Section 13 deems discriminatory any action “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” if they are “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

Brian Storseth introduced Bill C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) into the House of Commons Sept. 30. The bill would repeal Section 13 as well as section 54, the penalty clause associated with it.

“I am a firm believer that freedom of speech is one of the building blocks of our society,” Storseth said in an interview. “It is one of the core freedoms all the freedoms are built on. What is freedom of assembly if you don’t have freedom of speech?”

Henry faced complaints based on a similar clause in the Alberta Human Rights Act. He said Bill 13 exposes religious leaders to human rights complaints for expressing firmly held religious views on moral issues. It also causes publishers to be hauled before “the kangaroo court of a tribunal hearing” for printing cartoons, and censors comedians for “making remarks that might offend somebody’s sensitivities.”

“In Canada, we do not arrest people who are likely to break the law. The law must actually be broken,” the bishop said. “To hurt someone’s feelings doesn’t constitute discrimination, nor hatred.”

Henry believes he was actually the aggrieved party when charges were levelled against him.

“I believe that the complaints that were lodged against me were an attempt to intimidate and silence me, and in point of fact, the lodging of these complaints constituted a violation of my right of freedom of expression and freedom of religion guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedom, and has revealed a multitude of problems with the Alberta Human Rights Commission and its processes,” the bishop said.

The complaints were eventually dropped.

The bishop also objected to the process human rights commissions employ when people face complaints under these sections.

“Based on my experience, it is not difficult to point out a number of imbalances and flaws in (rights commissions’) current operations such as the presumption of guilt until you can prove your innocence, the open-ended time lines for dealing with a complaint and unjust incurring of financial expenditures for the defendant in the simple event of a complaint being lodged,” he said.

“However, there is no punitive action imposed on the complainant as his or her legal fees, if there are any, are covered by the commission.”