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HRC case a liberal travesty

by Archives January 22, 2008

It is always a travesty when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is trampled on by elected officials wielding the banner of the “not withstanding” clause. However, I understand the motivation of leaving the final say on constitutional matters with Parliament, just as I understand the potential risk of an activist judiciary: adjudicating without restraint. What I do not understand is the presumption of an appointed, quasi-legal, Human Rights Commission in censuring Ezra Levant, or any other Canadian, for the exercise of their fundamental rights to self-expression or the freedom of the press.
If the case of Mr. Levant was the only of its kind the matter would be less troubling – but it is not. Aside from the several instances of bureaucratic overstep alluded to in Mr. Levant’s own testimony, there is also a case involving Catholic Insight, a Toronto publication, and several cases against various website owners. In the case of Catholic Insight, an Edmonton man is suing the publishers for expressing the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality.
Now it’s not that I find any special merit in either the defamatory, Danish cartoons of Mohammed or the Catholic Church’s infamous position on homosexuality. In fact, I find both to be rather offensive, completely distasteful, and the kind of expression that I would be naturally inclined to argue against. But, I am a private person, operating in a private capacity, and my judgement has no legal bearing on the Catholic Church, Ezra Levant, or the Jyllands Posten; which originally published those cartoons. Conversely, and fortunately, none of those entities has the power to obstruct my right to criticism, or otherwise censure me for my opinions. Unfortunately, the Alberta Human Rights Commission apparently does.
In a free society individuals can enter public discourse, express themselves, and criticize those expressions which they find reprehensible, all without fear of repercussion. A free society is emblematic of a healthy democracy, where ideas are exchanged with impunity, and political expression is the sacred right of the individual. The rights of the Canadian body politic are imperilled when the government, which has the power to make legally binding decisions, enters the fray and starts acting as an enforcer of public taste or popular whim.
The moment when our government takes it upon itself to be the mediator of civil discourse, or the arbiter of ideological validity, it will have taken a dangerous step away from the realm of genuine democracy.
Some will, and have, argued that there is a real national interest in censoring certain modes of expression, which somehow trumps the rights of the individual. Advocates of censorship contend that certain religious, political, or social ideologies are sacred to those who hold them, and must be protected. In a way, I agree. In my opinion, all ideologies are sacred to those who hold them, and they all warrant protection. However, in my opinion, the best protection is a healthy, unencumbered, public discourse, wherein any individual can defend his beliefs from attacks by those with whom we may disagree.
Consider the alternative: a society in which our Charter rights are effectively moot, where arbitrary considerations of taste dictate which expressions are permissible, and where the government has relinquished its role as a secular, impartial, institution. That is not the Canadian society that I recognize, nor is it one in which I would care to live. We should remember that when we consider the peculiar case of Ezra Levant and the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

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