A champion of free speech emerges

In two previous columns, I dealt with the issue of the attack on free speech by Canadian Human Rights Commissions. Recently, Dr. Keith Martin, Liberal MP for Victoria, decided to do something about it. He proposed an amendment to section 13(1) of the Human Rights Act to correct this abuse.
Most media outlets treated his motion as a non-event by ignoring it. However, CBC essentially attacked Martin by pointing out that a white supremacist website had praised his action, thereby branding him a Nazi by association. They chose to quote that one website while ignoring at least 50 that supported it, many of those by highly respected Canadian organizations.
I found a good description of the issue on Keith Martin’s own website. I’ll quote from parts of it.    
Martin said: “In our country, we have human rights commissions, which exist at both federal and provincial levels. They were created in the 1970s with laudable objectives. At that time, we still had a society marred by bigotry and ignorance. As a dark skinned immigrant, I know from painful, personal experience what it feels like to be on the receiving end of those beliefs. The commissions were originally created with the noble intent to investigate when people were allegedly being discriminated against as they sought employment or housing.”
Martin went on to explain how a poorly crafted section of the act has enabled the commissions to move into a different area and begin investigating, prosecuting, and fining people who say something that someone else thinks is offensive. To personalize it, if someone feels offended by what I have written, that person can go to the commission and lodge a complaint.
What would happen next? In Martins words: “The commission would investigate at taxpayers’ expense. Although the plaintiff pays nothing, defendants must defend themselves with their own money, and if they are found guilty, they must pay fines out of their own pocket and can be subjected to lifetime bans on their ability to talk about certain issues. In the three decades of the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s (CHRC) existence, not a single defendant has been acquitted; not one. The commission has a staggering 100% conviction rate. Interestingly, more than half of the complaints have been launched by just one person – a former employee of the CHRC.”
Martin further explains how Canada already has laws to protect citizens against slander, libel, discrimination, and hate crimes. They also have the resource of civil suits heard in the courts when someone violates those laws.
But the commissions use section 13(1) to investigate and prosecute people whom they judge to have offended somebody. This all happens outside the court system, so there is no prosecutor, judge and jury, and they don’t answer to the Canadian public or Parliament.
We have the right in Canada to be free from slander, discrimination, and hate crimes, but we do not have the right of free speech when someone feels offended. Martin said: “Independent commissions that prosecute people for writings that do not meet the test of being a hate crime, slander or libel, is a very slippery slope indeed. To fix the problem, section 13(1) should be either amended, or deleted entirely. This matter strikes at an issue that should be of deep concern to all in our country who value freedom of speech as a pillar of a free and open democracy.”
So what should we do about it? In my case I’ll write about it. We can all contact our MPs, asking them to support Keith Martin’s amendment.
Goodness, I hope I haven’t offended someone.

Ray Wiseman