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Monday, May 04, 2009

Alberta government criticized for failing to reform the human rights commission

A modified excerpt of former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant's book Shakedown: How the Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights appears in the June 2009 edition of Reason Magazine. In the article, Levant gives a good account of how he was dragged in front the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission (AHRCC) in an apparent attempt to punish him for publishing a series of Danish cartoons that depicted the prophet Muhammad. Levant explains how he told off the commission and used the power of the Internet to publicize it's outrageous behaviour:

I had prepared an opening statement. 'When the Western Standard magazine printed the Danish cartoons of Muhammad two years ago,' I said, 'it was the proudest moment of my public life. I would do it again today. In fact, I did do it again today.…I posted the cartoons this morning on my website, EzraLevant.com.' It was more refined than telling McGovern to fuck off, but it had the same effect. She was stunned.… When I got home, I watched the video of the interrogation. Then I spent the weekend uploading clips onto the Internet, using the video site YouTube. I emailed a couple of dozen friends, relatives, and colleagues about them. I thought the clips would get 1,000 views, maybe 10,000 at most. But that weekend, my 'channel' on YouTube was the fifth-most-watched video site on the Internet. Within 10 days, 400,000 people had seen them.

Levant did not stop there. His recently published book and whirlwind media tour have done much to promote freedom of speech and expose the egregious policies of provincial and federal human rights commissions. As of a few weeks ago, it looked as though his efforts may have spurred concrete policy reforms in the Province of Alberta.

"We want the [human rights] commission to be a quasi-judicial body that has some teeth, that has some credibility but doesn't operate like a kangaroo court," said Lindsay Blackett—the minister responsible for the commission—after The Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership released a report that was critical of the AHRCC.

Having the minister lash out against this quasi-judicial body, however, was not enough to force the Stelmach government to make the changes necessary to get the commission out of the censorship business altogether. The government recently tabled Bill 44, which will amend the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act but fails to deal with section 3, which gives the commission the power to deal with matters of expression and speech (this was previously reported on by the Western Standard here and here).

Not only does the bill fail to protect freedom of speech, it also introduces a controversial new measure that protects the rights of parents to pull their children out of classes that deal with religious subject matter, even though the same rights are given under the School Act. The redundancy of this legislation can only be construed as an attempt to divert attention away from the free speech issue. Even Blackett doesn't seem pleased with the way this has turned out. In a recent interview with Rob Breakenridge, Blackett spent most of his time blaming his caucus colleagues for the government's failure to enact any meaningful reforms, rather than defending the policies of his own ministry. These sentiments were echoed by Levant who placed the blame squarely on the premier.

The Sheldon Chumir Foundation has also criticized the proposed reforms for failing to protect freedom of speech. "While there are positive aspects to Bill 44, on balance the proposed legislation is a great disappointment," said Janet Keeping, president of the Foundation.

Despite these recent setbacks, Canadians need to remain vigilant. We need to keep this issue in the media and continue to pressure governments to reform these commissions. Freedom of speech is not just an important human right, it is essential to the maintenance of a free and democratic society. The Stelmach government should be ashamed by its failure to rein in the commission and uphold such a fundamental value.

Posted by Jesse Kline on May 4, 2009 in Freedom of expression | Permalink


There is enough blame for both Stelmach and Blackett.

Excellent post, Jesse.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-05-04 9:08:47 PM

Lindsay Blackett, "Fast Eddie" Stelmach, et. al are liars, cowards, and bullies, all rolled into one disgusting mess. As the Alberta Govt. has now declared open aggression against the liberties of the peopl of this great province, it is now for we, the citizens, to resist them, violently if necessary, when they come to haul us off, for the crime of expressing our thoughts "Think well upon it"

Posted by: james parker | 2009-05-04 9:52:22 PM

Doesn't matter who's in power, the incremental theft of individual liberty marches on. This is what governments do when no one is paying attention. It can't last though, eventually there will be general outrage. And that's why they want to know where all the guns are.

Posted by: JC | 2009-05-05 6:31:25 AM

The problem in Alberta is that these politicians are so ****ing stupid, they don't even know that they're stupid. They literally are intellectually unable to separate lunacy from sensibility.

But what I hate the most is how this incoherent band of baboons takes us for fools knowing that we will elect them again, and again, and again....

Having politicians with the intellectual capacity of a tribe of chimpanzees is one thing but when they insult our province by making its citizens into neanderthals in the eyes of the rest of the world, well that is the kind of zero-cost branding we don't need.

Posted by: epsilon | 2009-05-05 9:17:03 AM

great argument epsi-

well researched information,
clear crisp language skills--
clever use of asterisks
brilliant original comparison of monkeys and politics
- with a wicked twist of evolutionary anthropology in reverse
"zero costing "- we need more convincing comprehensive math like this if we are ever to resolve important social issues affecting Canadians

thumbs up all the way ! bravo

Posted by: 419 | 2009-05-05 9:48:35 AM

GFYS 419

Posted by: epsilon | 2009-05-05 1:55:23 PM

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