Why Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act will soon be dead

October 5, 2011

mentioned before that Wildrose Alliance of Alberta leader Danielle Smith had somewhat reversed her party’s position on amending Alberta’s Human Rights Act to unequivocally uphold freedom of speech. Instead, Smith announced, she’s going to go more the route of Saskatchewan, putting speech-related AHRA complaints under actual court oversight but still allowing the courts to determine what speech is and isn’t allowed.

I may have been a little unfair on Mrs. Smith. Her proposal is still a damn sight better than the current state of affairs in Alberta, and her proposal would pretty much sound the death knell of the “hate speech” provision of the Alberta Human Rights Act, Section 3 – perhaps not officially, but effectively. I don’t see why the thing couldn’t be officially scrapped altogether, but politics is politics. I’ll take what I can get.
Speaking of Section 3, I’m particularly heartened by Alison Redford’s election as premier-designate of Alberta in light of Redford’s own views on Section 3. This August, the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association asked several “potential premiers of Alberta” a few questions on civil-liberties related issues. Among those issues was the Alberta Human Rights Act ( “What changes will you make to Alberta’s human rights legislation and commission to strengthen equality and protect freedom of expression?” ) For the record, here is Danielle Smith’s answer to that question:
The Wildrose has committed to abolishing Section 3 of the Human Rights Act, as well as ensuring that true justice can be pursued by having Human Rights cases heard in a court of law, rather than in front of the Human Rights Commission. This would ensure that cases can be heard in a balanced environment, with real checks and balances, as well as trained legal professionals.
Also, as part of a Wildrose increase to Legal Aid, Albertans that require legal assistance for human rights cases would have the resources offered to them to ensure the access they require.

And here is Alison Redford’s answer to that same question:

I want to amend and fine-tune the existing legislation, after consultations with stakeholders, to better define and protect free speech in light of challenges to the statute in Freedom of expression must be shielded and Section 3 of theAlberta Human Rights Act should be repealed.

Read it all here. H/t to my uncle for sending me the survey – he knows who he is…

Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act is toast.


Review: “Freedom of What?cott: A Documentary.”

September 7, 2011

A while back, a couple of film-makers called the Moon Brothers asked if they could use something that I had written about controversial anti-abortion,

anti-gay activist Bill Whatcott in the trailer for a film that they were making about his many controversies and court battles calledFreedom of What?cott: A Documentary.”

Of course I said yes, and the quote went into their trailer. I made myself open for a review copy and, lo and behold, one arrived in my mail a few days ago. I watched it last night.

Over-all, the thing that I would say I liked best about the film was its underground feel. The whole movie is pieced together from interviews with various friends, supporters, and critics of Bill Whatcott, including one of the people who filed against him with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal, spliced with footage of Bill talking about his own life and background, numerous headlines about his exploits and court cases, radio interviews, and a rather odd narrative style composed of several different people in what looks like the same sound studio. Basically, it’s a multi-media barrage of sound and film, all constructed around the story of one man’s life. It had a kind of gritty, indie feel to it that I thought added a lot to the film.

The story of the film itself is pretty simple: it’s the life and times of Bill Whatcott, anti-abortion and anti-gay social conservative activist extraordinaire. He pisses off a lot of people, doesn’t really have a feel for tact or subtlety, and has fought court case after court case because of his protests and his flyers criticizing what he sees as a baby-killing, homosexual agenda.

The film could have easily turned into an attack on Bill Whatcott himself. Indeed, it’s hard not to attack Bill Whatcott sometimes. But I thought this documentary did a good job of getting a glimpse into Whatcott himself, his motivations. He really does seem to care about gay people, even though he goes about showing his concern in rather abrasive ways. He really is a nice guy, even though he knows how to push people’s buttons. And, in his past, there is quite a tragic history of abuse and neglect, which no doubt accounts for some of Whatcott’s lack of social mores.

More than that, this film explores the line between “hate speech” and free speech. I don’t believe there is such a line myself – I think you either have free speech or you don’t – and I think Freedom of What?cott tends to come down on this side as well, although that could be my personal bias showing through. Either way, it’s a thoughtful exploration of a very heated topic, and one that deserves to be listened to.

In the words of Edmonton Journal columnist Scott McKeen, who was interviewed throughout this film:

Who decides then, what is acceptable and what’s not? The government? Then they can censure me for criticizing a policy of theirs. And even people like Bill Whatcott, if we silence him, society loses a voice that it can at least consider. And while I don’t like Bill’s message, we need people who fight against the establishment and wake us up. That doesn’t mean they’re always right, doesn’t mean we’re going to agree. But we need to be woken up sometimes, and I’ll be pissed at you guys if that’s the only quote you use from me because I really don’t like Bill Whatcott.

All in all, watch this documentary if you’re interested in the fight between “hate speech” and free speech, or if you’d just like to get a glimpse into the life of someone so conflicted, driven, and always controversial.

Barbara Hall: a thought

January 30, 2011

In light of the news that Barbara Hall, it seems, wants to start the Human Rights rhetoric at a young age for Ontario’s school-children, a thought:

By all means, we should indoctrinate our children. I’m all in favor of bludgeoning our younglings with ideology. But perhaps we could start with some of the classical liberal theorists first? The European revolutionaries who kick-started our liberal democracy; their Socialist offspring; the evolution of liberal and conservative thought over the decades and centuries?

It just seems to me that if we’re going to be placing an emphasis on human rights in schools, we should perhaps offer some basic instruction in how the concept of ‘human rights’ came to be in the first place. Start with an education in liberalism, then work from there.

Of course, if Ontario went that route, people might actually start to see how silly some of Barbara Hall’s mandate really is.

Can’t have that.

Bill Whatcott goes the extra mile

January 15, 2011

Bill Whatcott holds views that I don’t agree with, and goes about promoting them through means that go far beyond the pale.

But for this, he should be congratulated:

REGINA, Sask. – The Supreme Court of Canada says a man who distributed anti-gay pamphlets can challenge the constitutionality of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.

Bill Whatcott is questioning part of the code that allows the commission to charge people with hate speech.

Read the rest. H/t to Blazing Cat Fur.

Bill Whatcott is not the most desirable man to have in your corner. But, as so often happens in these sorts of situations, he is playing an instrumental role in the fight for freedom of speech in Saskatchewan, and possibly Canada.

Meanwhile: My colleague notes the continued battle between religious conviction and the office of marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan. It seems all manner of battles are being fought in Saskatchewan on the HRC front these days.

More qualified head officials for government bureaucracies? No, no, that shouldn’t be.

January 14, 2011

Since we here at the Lynch Mob have been talking about the ‘toxic environment’ at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, I thought it would be fitting to highlight this story from the Ottawa Citizen:

OTTAWA — Public servants angrily complaining of “toxic” workplaces at agencies upholding human rights in Canada and integrity in government have sparked calls for more rigorous screening of the political appointees picked to head federal agencies.

The complaints of workers at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal sound eerily similar to the poisoned workplace Auditor General Sheila Fraser found when she investigated harassment complaints against Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet.

“When half of the staff at the human rights tribunal disappears, that’s alarming, said Milt Isaacs, president of the Association of Canadian Financial Officers.

“When you see smoke like that, it should be investigated and there should be a more extensive vetting of these people’s management style. They may be great experts and know human rights, but that doesn’t make them good managers.”

You don’t say…

Is the Human Rights Tribunal oppressing its own employees?

January 7, 2011

[ ED NOTE: This piece originally appeared at Xanthippa’s Chamberpot, and is reproduced here courtesy of Xanthippa herself. Previous coverage of the instability at the CHRT by my colleague Scary here, and by myself here. ]


I sound like a broken record when I start writing about the Human Rights racket in Canada: from tribunals to commissions, from the federal mama-bureaucracy to the provincial daughter-bureaucracies.

As far as I can see, they have completely and uterly failed to achieve the purpose for which they were created – and instead of making the situation better and working towards an equal treatment of all the citizens of our wonderful country, they have worked to striate the society and declare which ‘groups’ were ‘more equal’ than the rest of us. And even though the mainstream media (msm) has begun to wake up to what is going on, most of its members are still too cowardly to actually say so (much less do some serious investigative journalism on the topic).

Perhaps I should not be judging them so harshly: the political indoctrination most acredited journalists got at our ‘places of higher learning’ is hard to break through….and then there is the fear that if they say what they see, they will be out of a job. But, I’m a bit of an idealist who thinks that if one has to lie to keep one’s job, and one does not quit that job but chooses to lie, they are, well, the sort of stuff you scrape off the bottom of your shoe with a stick…

So, I did a double take when I went to the local corner store for some milk (my kids will not drink the ‘supermarket’ milk) and I caught a sight of this headline in the Ottawa Citizen:

Human Rights Tribunal in turmoil: union

Employees describe work environment that has deteriorated ‘to point of toxicity’

Front page, above the fold!

I was impressed!

Coming home, I googled the article and eagerly read on.

More than half of the 25-member staff, including middle and senior level managers, have left, taken sick leave or retired over the past year. At least three have filed formal harassment complaints.

Unions representing workers confirmed they received numerous complaints of abuse of authority, intimidation and personal harassment. They say employees describe a work environment that has deteriorated “to the point of toxicity.”

Well, well, well!

Three out of twenty five – that is a full 12%!!!

There aren’t many work places where fully 12% of the employees have filed FORMAL complaints!!!

So the haughty attitude that we, the citizens, perceive as emanating from this place is not just our imagination: sounds like the poor slobs who have to work for these arrogant elitists perceive them that way, too! And, it also sounds like they (the arrogant elitists, not the poor suckers who have to work for them) don’t understand that one should not pee in one’s own swimingpool … or that they are honestly unaware of their own incontinence.

But, let’s get back to the worker-bees.

If they are persecuted in their workplace on one of the ‘protected grounds’, and their workplace also is the Human Rights Tribunal, whom can they get to adjudicate their human rights complaint?

Enquiring minds want to know!

The CHRT: hellhole

January 5, 2011

As noted by my colleague below, working conditions at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal are, apparently, quite awful. According to the Ottawa Citizen:

More than half of the 25-member staff, including middle and senior level managers, have left, taken sick leave or retired over the past year. At least three have filed formal harassment complaints.

Unions representing workers confirmed they received numerous complaints of abuse of authority, intimidation and personal harassment. They say employees describe a work environment that has deteriorated “to the point of toxicity.”

The situation in the tribunal sounds strikingly similar to the poisoned workplace Auditor General Sheila Fraser found when she investigated the Public Sector Integrity Office under the leadership of retired commissioner Christiane Ouimet, said Milt Isaacs, president of the Association of Canadian Financial Officers.

The leaders of three federal unions have taken the unusual step of working together to get an independent investigation into the conflict and to find ways to resolve it.

“We’ve tried to be co-operative. We’re not looking for a head on a stick. We just want an outside agency to do an independent workplace assessment to see what we’re dealing with and make the changes needed,” said John Edmunds, president of the Union of Solicitor General Employees.

“There’s a toxic work environment. As an employer, you would think they would want to find solutions.”

In a statement, the tribunal’s executive director Frederick Gloade wouldn’t comment on specific complaints.

He acknowledged “workplace and human resource problems” some of which he said are “complex and go back some time.”

Where to begin? There’s bad news and good news, here. Let’s start with the good.

The Good

The good news coming out of this story is that the CHRT is a dysfunctional organization. This, combined with the deadlock surrounding Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, means that the CHRT is, theoretically at least, less and less able to do its job.

Great. Wonderful. It might not be legislative review, parliamentary censure, or outright dismantling, but the CHRT is, apparently, becoming less and less effectual with each passing day. For critics like me, that’s a nice ( belated ) Christmas present.

The Bad

The bad news is also sort of good news – kinda – because this story means that the CHRT, the quasi-judicial body originally tasked with, mainly, workplace disputes, is rife with workplace disputes.

How awesome is that? Again, the critic in me enjoys the sheer schadenfreude and dysfunction. But another part of me kind of despairs: because dysfunctional as it is, and as inept as the CHRT is at solving its own workplace disputes, it is still charged with managing the workplace disputes of everyone else that the CHRC deems worthy of being dragged through quasi-judicial hell.

And that’s not good for anyone.

Last word

Last word goes to Andrew Phillips, who writes, in an email sent out via his mailing list:

My letter to the Ottawa Citizen concerning the CHRC Toxic environment

With the information as to the toxic environment at the CHRC I think this is a good issue for Elizabeth May and Green Party. The corrosive nature of all the Human Rights Commissions have on free speech presents a clear and present danger to free speech environment in Canada. While this toxicity is effecting the employees directly the overall effect on the nation of the CHRC’s very existence is a direct threat to us all. This would be a good time to see the environmental movements belief in the “precautionary principal” put to good use for a change.

Andrew Phillips