New Canadian Media

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

Two French counter-terrorism judges have issued, for the sixth time, a release order in the case of extradited Canadian Hassan Diab, being held in France in connection with a deadly bomb attack in Paris. And once again, his supporters in Canada are calling on the Liberal government to demand his return.

Diab, a former University of Ottawa sociology professor, was extradited to France in 2014 on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and destruction of property with an explosive or incendiary substance in connection with a 1980 synagogue bombing in Paris that killed four people.

Initially arrested in 2008, Diab has consistently maintained his innocence and has argued that he was in Lebanon at the time of the attack. French prosecutors say he built and placed the bomb used in the attack.

French judges have six times ordered Diab released on pre-trial bail since May 2016. The two who issued the release order on Monday agreed with Diab’s defence team that there is “consistent evidence” he was not in France at the time of the bombing.

Each time, the French Court of Appeal has overturned the release orders. The latest order is being appealed by the prosecutor on the case.

“Dr. Diab’s continued incarceration is wholly and manifestly unjust,” said Don Bayne, who represents Diab’s case in Canada, in a media release Tuesday. “It is past time for this government to come to the aid of a Canadian citizen, to end this travesty of justice, to bring him home. Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Freeland, where are you when an innocent Canadian needs you?”

The case has raised questions over the years because French police have relied on secret information, as well as handwriting analysis that experts have repeatedly suggested is not reliable.

Even before Diab was extradited, the Ontario Superior Court judge who heard his challenge said that the evidence presented by French police was “illogical,” “very problematic” and “convoluted,” but that — based on the Canadian threshold for extradition — there was no option but to hand Diab over.

The Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his appeal shortly before Diab was extradited.

Supporters of Diab last month launched a petition asking the government to “work towards the immediate granting of bail to [Diab] and securing his urgent return to his family and home in Canada.”

So far, 1,333 Canadians have signed the petition, which meets the threshold to force the government to issue an official response.

However, Canada does not use the U.K. model, which forces a parliamentary debate if an e-petition gathers more than 100,000 signatures.


 

By arrangement with iPolitics.ca 

Published in Top Stories

by Richard Landau (Richard54) in Toronto

For those who have come to Canada from just about any place on the planet other than Western Europe or the United States, you are comfortable with the fact that religious expression and faith are acceptable in public forums.

Thus, many new Canadians find the recent decision of our Supreme Court about prayer to be confusing.

Many new Canadians don’t understand how official state secularism tends to silence public expressions of faith. After all, India – the motherland of such universal religious traditions as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, and adopted homeland of Zoroastrianism – is by definition a secular nation. 

In recent memory, a Muslim president and a Sikh prime minister governed Hindu-majority India, neither of whom felt compelled to hide their respective faiths while performing public duties.

India, yes, with its occasionally explosive communal violence, is a vastly Hindu nation, where faith is expressed publicly, and yet the nation identifies itself constitutionally as secular.

As far as I can determine, the Saguenay words are only potentially offensive in that they mention “God.” Admittedly, the crucifix in Saguenay council chambers is another matter entirely.

This is a different understanding than the one reflected in the Supreme Court decision after it reviewed the constitutionality of the recitation of an opening prayer at council meetings in the City of Saguenay, Quebec. The Court determined that:

“ . . . The state may not, by expressing its own religious preference, promote the participation of believers to the exclusion of non-believers or vice-versa. A neutral public space free from coercion, pressure and judgment on the part of public authorities in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity, and it helps preserve and promote the multicultural nature of Canadian society.”

Here is a translation of the prayer that had been recited in Saguenay:

“God, eternal and almighty, who has all power and wisdom, we are assembled in your presence to ensure the welfare and prosperity of our city. Grant us, we beseech you, light and energy to our deliberations to promote the honour and glory of your holy name and the spiritual and material happiness of our city. Amen.”

As far as I can determine, the Saguenay words are only potentially offensive in that they mention “God.” Admittedly, the crucifix in Saguenay council chambers is another matter entirely. 

Silencing Religion

As a proponent of interfaith dialogue, I had thought Canada had come so far – that in most public forums where prayer takes place, all religions are given a chance to say the opening and closing prayers. 

In fact, such a diverse expression would also allow for a moment of non-denominational silent reflection rotating in among the various faith-based prayers and expressions. Now, that’s neutrality. 

[H]ere’s the thing about religion. In recent years we have hidden it. We shunt it to the back row. We want it expurgated from public life. We want it silent.

As I suggested in my book What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue, it’s even more appropriate in Canada to open with a prayer from a First Nations, Inuit or Métis source. Sadly, even that may not be anymore.

I’d noted that with the arrival of diverse new Canadians, our society was growing accustomed to a range of faithful expression. Many even have learned to respect that not all faiths recognize a supreme being. Among these: Buddhism, Jainism, and some native spiritual belief systems.

And here’s the thing about religion. In recent years we have hidden it. We shunt it to the back row. We want it expurgated from public life. We want it silent.

That is, until there is a human disaster, like 9/11 and then suddenly and hypocritically we desperately drag faith out of hiding. The pent up demand for faith comes gushing into public view.

I wonder if the Court took into account that 75 per cent of Canadians profess some form of religious belief, and worldwide the number of believers in the major religions, and their relative percentages among the general populace, is growing. Those who are atheist are on the decline according to The Pew Forum.

We have on the one hand more new Canadians of faith and on the other, a more vocal and muscular atheism. Into this situation wades the Supreme Court of Canada. Itself, tasked with interpreting and upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has in its preamble:

Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

Here, we are in a nation where God also rates a mention in the English national anthem (for how long, I wonder) and the Cross (la croix) is in the French lyrics.

A Neutral Approach

The Supreme Court has dealt with matters of faith on a number of occasions, recently. Somehow, the American notion of separation of church and state has crept into Canada. It must be a recent thing, because it was the federal government that commissioned those churches to set up those now-reviled residential schools.

Speaking of extinguishing, eliminating all prayer may work for the small percentage of committed atheists in the nation. But it works only for them.

For Americans, the separation meant no official state religion, no collusion, and most importantly, a government that stays out of interfering in religious institutions.

I digress. When our Supreme Court rules that an expression of faith at the opening of a council meeting violates someone’s rights, I would agree if the expression did not reflect the diversity and composition of the respective community itself. I wouldn’t want to compel a city full of atheists to recite any prayer at all. 

But I wish the Court would have applied and quoted its own words from last month’s Loyola decision about the right of a Montreal Catholic school to teach its own religious program, wherein the Court wrote:

“A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.” 

Speaking of extinguishing, eliminating all prayer may work for the small percentage of committed atheists in the nation. But it works only for them.

The rest of us are comfortable with hearing the expressions of other faiths. We don’t find it threatening or prejudicial. 

My years in the interfaith field have shown me that most efforts to remove faith from any role in public life are usually originated by lapsed Christians. Prove me wrong, if you can.

I believe the best approach is to institute a minute of quiet reflection or rotating invocations from all faiths, native communities, and yes, even those who have no belief. Otherwise, we risk chopping off an arm because there was a hangnail on one finger.

Thus, in keeping with the essence of the Supreme Court’s finding in Loyola, I urge city councils and other public institutions to respect religious differences by expanding to include all expressions – including humanist/atheist and silent reflection. 

How does this violate the neutral public space of which the Supreme Court writes? It doesn’t, at all. This approach does not prefer one religion or belief or disbelief to any other. It does not “extinguish them.”


Richard M. Landau has been responsible for adjudicating disputes and enforcing a television network code of ethics in a religious broadcasting setting since 1992. He is a graduate of Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. A leader in interfaith dialogue, Landau has consulted with the U.K. Home Office, and the White House Office of Community- and Faith-Based Initiatives. He works closely with leadership in all of the major world religions. He is author of What the World Needs to Know about Interfaith Dialogue.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

Graham Hudson

by Graham Hudson in Toronto

The attack on Parliament last October prompted questions about the state of Canada’s national security. While nowhere near the gravity of 9/11, the government has used this event as part of its rationale for a major overhaul of the country’s security apparatus.

Bill C-51 (also known as the Anti-Terrorism Act, or ATA, 2015) is the means through which these changes will be made. The bill focuses on expanding the powers of law enforcement and security intelligence agencies, with specific regard to the early identification and neutralization of terrorist threats before they occur.

The world of national security is not governed by legislation alone. In a constitutional democracy, such as Canada’s, all laws must comply with the constitution.

Examples of such changes include the criminalization of the advocacy of terrorism and greatly enhanced powers of surveillance. Perhaps above all, the bill provides Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) with the historically unprecedented power to conduct foreign intelligence work and to use a range of “kinetic” powers to disrupt emergent or preparatory terrorist activities.

There is a clear adoption of American-style approaches to security intelligence practices and philosophies. CSIS is being given powers the CIA has long possessed, while the Edward Snowden leaks illustrate all too well that the NSA has used domestic surveillance frequently — and excessively.

Despite several concerns, I’m sure many of the powers granted in Bill C-51 are necessary and justifiable.

However, the world of national security is not governed by legislation alone.

In a constitutional democracy, such as Canada’s, all laws must comply with the constitution. Constitutions are the bedrock of law and life; they function both to constrain the arbitrary exercise of political power, and to symbolize the values and very spirit of a political community.

Bill C-51 gets this backwards, declaring that parts of the constitution don’t apply to national security operations. It carves out a legal “black hole” where rights simply vanish.

They serve to frame reasonable discussions about the challenges we face. Above all, constitutions are storehouses of received wisdom about how to resolve recurring problems in ways that strengthen bonds among diverse ethnic, linguistic and cultural communities.

Violating the Charter

The trouble with Bill C-51 is that it includes a number of provisions that are plainly contrary to the constitution, including respect for rights and the rule of law. For example, Bill C-51 expressly authorizes CSIS to deliberately violate the Charter of Rights and Freedomswhen exercising its new powers. The bill also authorizes CSIS to violate international (human rights) law while conducting operations abroad.

There are several more provisions that are arguably contrary to the Charter, although in ways that are less obvious. Privacy and freedom of expression are among areas of concern with enhanced powers of surveillance, as those living south of the border surely would attest. 

Bill C-51 rests on a serious misunderstanding of the nature of a constitutional democracy. In such a community, laws that are inconsistent with the constitution are of no force or effect. Bill C-51 gets this backwards, declaring that parts of the constitution don’t apply to national security operations. It carves out a legal “black hole” where rights simply vanish.

How is this justified?  The popular appeal of the bill may be chalked up to a mixture of factors. Certainly, timing is one of them, as is the politics of fear. The Conservatives have successfully linked the ATA, 2015 to fear of radicalization and the migration of terrorism from overseas to our doorstep.

History Repeats Itself

There is nothing unprecedented about this sort of rhetoric. We have been here before. Indeed, the ATA, 2015 is not even the first piece of legislation bearing that name. On October 15, 2001, the Liberal government introduced the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2001.

Like its contemporary equivalent, the ATA, 2001 amended a wide range of existing statutes, including the Criminal Code and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. It, too, produced a series of unprecedented measures, many of which critics insisted were contrary to the Charter.

In the years following 9/11, the Supreme Court found breaches of the Charter in such areas as: deportation to face torture, the use of secret evidence, our involvement in Guantanamo Bay and the USA’s “War on Terror” in general.

The critics, it turns out, were half right. A good number of the measures introduced in the ATA, 2001 remain mainstays in Canada’s national security toolkit.  These include a range of novel terrorist offences, new investigative techniques and secret trials/evidence.

Yet, we also found that some measures and practices violated the constitution. We too learned about laws, policies and practices to better balance national security and human rights.

This learning process unfolded in many areas. Sometimes, we learned about human rights abuses through media and grassroots social and political mobilization. The Afghan detainee issue or the case of Maher Arar, for example, were brought to our attention by academics, human rights advocates, the family of affected persons and members of Arab-Muslim communities. Their efforts shed light on injustice, including Canada’s involvement in extraordinary rendition and torture abroad.

Other times, we learned about abuses through court cases. In the years following 9/11, the Supreme Court found breaches of the Charter in such areas as: deportation to face torture, the use of secret evidence, our involvement in Guantanamo Bay and the USA’s “War on Terror” in general, and, the ways in which CSIS had been destroying evidence or relevant information on persons subject to national security proceedings. 

To their credit, Parliament and the national security community took these judgments seriously. Laws were amended, policies improved, and practices changed. National security operations were improved as a result.

The collaborative efforts of courts, Parliament and national security agencies resulted in the overall improvement of the ATA, 2001, both in terms of its effectiveness and its consistency with the rule of law. There has been a steady rebuilding of trust between state and society; “smarter,” more effective means of reducing terrorist threats and clearer guidelines for avoiding human rights abuses have been implemented. 

It is sadly ironic that an attack on Parliament is being used to justify reducing, if not outright eliminating, constitutional constraints on our government. Supporters of the ATA, 2015 reassure us that courts remain competent to strike down or modify unconstitutional laws, but this rationale misses the point entirely.

The Conservatives know that the ATA, 2015 is subject to constitutional challenge on many fronts. This being so, its strategy is obvious: pass a popular law in time to strengthen its election campaign, and deal with constitutional fallout afterwards.
 

For this to occur, we must first know that our rights are being violated. Where is Canada’s Snowden? Those whose rights are being violated must hire a lawyer and amass evidence sufficient to demonstrate a Charter breach. Given that national security is by its nature secretive, this is no simple matter — nor is it cheap. Finally, one must wait years for a case to make its way up to the Supreme Court.

A Fear-Based Strategy

Why wait for judicial interventions, when we possess the means to avoid perfectly foreseeable problems now?

The rule of law is in the interests of national security too. To have courts regularly intervene, striking down enabling laws or curtailing operational practices in a piecemeal fashion, creates an environment of uncertainty and instability, and may threaten the integrity of ongoing operations.

Tending to these problems now is also in the best interests of Parliament and our political culture. Parliament has the authority and the responsibility to tend to these matters on its own, without being told to do so by courts. It did so with the ATA, 2001 by including a provision that required a future Parliament to conduct a “comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of the Act.”

This led to three separate parliamentary reports that helped spur progressive change. A prominent example includes the recommendation — which the government ultimately acted upon — that evidence derived from torture not be admissible in any national security proceeding in Canada.   

The Conservatives know that the ATA, 2015 is subject to constitutional challenge on many fronts. This being so, its strategy is obvious: pass a popular law in time to strengthen its election campaign, and deal with constitutional fallout afterwards.

This indulgent, fear-based strategy will do serious, long-term damage. It will lead to the abuse of rights, it will create an environment of legal uncertainty, it will subject national security agencies to destabilizing judicial interventions and it will fray the trust the government has worked hard to regain after years of missteps.

As the ATA, 2015 nears enactment, it is appropriate to ask whether history repeats itself. If it does, it’s because no one was listening the first time.


Graham Hudson is an associate professor and undergraduate program director in the department of criminology at Ryerson University. He is a participant in the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society. His research focuses on the intersection of national security, human rights and irregular migration.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

THE World Sikh Organization of Canada has welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the landmark case of Loyola High School, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec. This case deals with the right of a Catholic school to teach the Christianity portion of the mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) curriculum, […]

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

by Colin Perkel 

Would-be Canadians will have to keep taking an oath to the Queen after the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday refused to hear a challenge to the citizenship requirement.

The decision by the top court leaves intact an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that upheld the “symbolic” oath.

At issue is a provision in the Citizenship Act that requires would-be citizens to swear to be “faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors.”

The challenge to the requirement was launched by Michael McAteer, Simone Topey and Dror Bar-Natan — longtime permanent residents who want to obtain citizenship but, for different reasons, do not want to pledge allegiance to the monarchy.

Lawyer Peter Rosenthal said the high court refusal to hear the case doesn’t necessarily indicate an endorsement of the oath — but simply means the justices didn’t feel the case was worthy of their attention.

Informed of the Supreme Court decision that ends the battle, McAteer, 81, of Toronto, said he was disappointed but not surprised.

“It’s been a long haul,” said McAteer, a staunch republican who came to Canada from Ireland 51 years ago.

“(But) I feel the same: If the oath stands, then I won’t take Canadian citizenship.”

Topey, a Jamaican Rastafarian, said her religion forbids taking an oath to the Queen. Bar-Natan, an Israeli, argued that the oath represents entrenched privilege he opposes.

The federal government maintained that taking the oath has been around since Confederation.

In September 2013, a lower court judge ruled that any charter violation caused by the oath requirement could be justified in a democratic society. The Ontario Court of Appeal affirmed that decision last year.

In its ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal noted the Queen remains Canada’s head of state, calling the oath a “symbolic commitment to be governed as a democratic constitutional monarchy unless and until democratically changed.”

Lawyer Peter Rosenthal said the high court refusal to hear the case doesn’t necessarily indicate an endorsement of the oath — but simply means the justices didn’t feel the case was worthy of their attention.

The irony, Rosenthal said, is that the courts have essentially said those who take the oath are free to disavow it after becoming citizens by adhering to the anti-monarchist cause.

“People who find the monarchy repugnant to swear to might want to do that,” Rosenthal said.

Topey, a Jamaican Rastafarian, said her religion forbids taking an oath to the Queen. Bar-Natan, an Israeli, argued that the oath represents entrenched privilege he opposes.

Former Liberal citizenship minister Sergio Marchi told The Canadian Press in 2013 that former prime minister Jean Chretien had agreed to allow would-be citizens to pledge allegiance to Canada instead of the Queen, but got cold feet at the last minute.

Faced with the looming Quebec referendum in 1995, Chretien decided against making the change, Marchi said. 


Re-published with permission.

Published in Top Stories

OTTAWA – Peter Van Loan, MP for York-Simcoe is shocked that Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party are seeking to have the Memorial to the Victims of Communism moved away from the parliamentary precinct.

The Federal Liberal Party announced Thursday that they believe the proposed memorial beside the Supreme Court to be “inappropriate” and “disrespectful”. The Liberals want to see it moved to a less prominent location.

The Estonian Life

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Published in Politics
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 10:11

Disregard for Diversity in Selection of Judges

Several legal groups are calling on Ottawa for a more accountable process for judicial appointments saying there is an appalling lack of diversity and visible minority judges in Canada.

The Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, the South Asian Bar Association, and the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers have joined forces arguing the appointments show a “disregard for diversity” and are calling for change in the selection process.

Last week, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers sent a letter to Justice Minister Peter MacKay asking if the government plans to start collecting information about the makeup of judges.

The letter was sent in response to media reports that found the department of justice doesn’t have any “readily available” information about the diversity of federal judicial appointments from the past 20 years.

It means the government can’t say how many women, visible minorities, French-speakers or aboriginals have been named as federal judges since 1993. 

There is much to gain from having a judiciary that reflects society in all its diversity. Diversity on the bench enhances judicial impartiality as well as public confidence in the administration of justice.

In its letter, the FACL – which represents some 700 members in Ontario, and is affiliated with the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, which has approximately 40,000 members –  asks MacKay three questions: 

Does the government keep statistics on the number of judicial applicants who it says do not “self-identify”?

How long will it take the government to gather this information?

Does the government intend to gather and produce this information so that we may better understand where exactly we stand on judicial diversity in Canada?

The letter also says MacKay has twice declined a meeting with the federation’s president to discuss diversity. Another letter shows MacKay also turned down a meeting last summer with the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, Global News reported.

Lawyer Anna Wong writing in Law Times said a recent round of judicial appointments by Justice Minister Peter MacKay has put the issue of judicial diversity squarely back in the spotlight.

“The latest appointments follow a trend of predominantly white male appointments that reflect neither the diversity of the population served nor that of the legal profession. 

Canada has the highest proportion of immigrants among the G8 countries. 

Our diverse makeup is hardly evident, however, from the demographics of federal judicial appointees. Between April 2012 and May 2014, only one of 107 new judges appointed by the federal government was from a visible minority group, according to a study by Prof. Rosemary Cairns Way. Gender statistics are similarly dismal. 

Women comprise approximately one-third of the bench even as they comprise 51 per cent of the overall population.
“There is much to gain from having a judiciary that reflects society in all its diversity. Diversity on the bench enhances judicial impartiality as well as public confidence in the administration of justice,” said Wong.

“Having a diverse bench, then, enhances impartiality because it means there will be more varied experiences and perspectives from which to draw on in interpreting and applying the law. Women and visible minorities, by virtue of their historical marginality, have a unique frame of reference as outsiders within that renders them suitably positioned to appreciate the assumptions and stereotypes underpinning many legal doctrines and engender previously overlooked interpretations, analyses, and approaches.”

There has been a sustained chorus for better tracking of data and access to the demographic information of applicants for judicial appointments as well as those named to the bench. With transparency comes accountability and an ability to measure progress. 

British Columbia releases information on applicants to the provincial court, said Wong.

Under the current federal selection process, eight-member regional judicial advisory committees review written applications. The federal minister of justice nominates three of the eight committee members, something that potentially colours the screening process with a political tint. The committees don’t interview candidates. Instead, they undertake consultations with the legal community and the community at large and designate each applicant as either “recommended” or “unable to recommend.” 

The federal minister of justice chooses from among the candidates on the recommended list to put forward to the federal cabinet, which is where political considerations can come into play.


Re-published with permission from the Asian Pacific Post.

Published in Top Stories
Tuesday, 11 November 2014 11:17

Why Human Rights Tribunals are Still Relevant

by Yves Engler

Speaking Out on Human Rights is a powerful response to the right-wing backlash against human rights commissions and tribunals. In this readable book, lawyer and McGill University lecturer Pearl Eliadis details the positive contributions these commissions have made to the advancement of human rights and points the way forward to strengthening these important institutions. 

The book is chock full of interesting and important nuggets on struggles for equality. In 1939, for instance, the Supreme Court maintained “a tavern owner’s refusal to serve a black man, Fred Christie, a beer after a hockey game,” and seven years later a black woman – prosecuted for sitting in the whites-only area of a Halifax theatre – had her conviction upheld by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal. It wasn’t until 1985, Eliadis reminds us, that the Supreme Court ruled that “everyone” physically present in this country is entitled to life, liberty, and security of the person under section 7 of the Canadian Charter. It was only three years ago that aboriginal peoples won the right to file human rights complaints in relation to the Indian Act.
 
[Canadians] began to believe that human rights institutions in Canada were no longer acting in the best interests of Canadians.

Speaking Out on Human Rights delves into the history of discrimination in this country, how human rights commissions and tribunals have helped, and how various forms of discrimination persist.

Yves Engler: The book is partly a response to the media frenzy towards human rights commissions spurred by two cases in 2007. Can you tell me about them?

Pearl Eliadis: The first case was the conservative online magazine Western Standard’s re-publication of one of the Danish “Mohammed-as-bomber” cartoons, and the second case involved three complaints initiated by Canadian law students against Rogers Inc. and its editor for refusing to publish a rebuttal to a string of allegedly anti-Muslim articles in Maclean’s magazine, a Rogers property. The students announced that they would be filing complaints in three jurisdictions in Canada because they argued the articles were beyond offensive and were discriminatory, painting Muslims with a broad and tarred brush, depicting them as prone to bestiality and sex with nine-year-olds.

An avalanche of articles and editorials in the media appeared, in a concerted and coordinated effort to repeal the human rights laws that regulate hate speech. Outrage against the bureaucracy of human rights commissions was not new, but the Maclean’s hate speech complaints blended free speech, the “Muslim menace,” and national security threats to create a toxic brew that brought the simmering stew of rage-against-the-government-machine to a full boil. The net result was that many Canadians, spurred on by media reports and by politicians who thought they saw an opening to attack these institutions in the name of “freedom,” began to believe that human rights institutions in Canada were no longer acting in the best interests of Canadians. It became commonplace to see public calls for the abolition of these institutions or the rolling back of human rights legislation.

[H]uman rights commissions also have a legal obligation to speak out about human rights and to promote public awareness of human rights ...

YE: You quote the president of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter who cited a series of “pillar cases” from the Supreme Court of Canada that began in human rights commissions and have gone a long way in strengthening women’s, workers’, religious rights etc. Isn’t this an indication of the importance of the tribunals?

PE: The cases discussed in the quote started at the level of human rights commissions and tribunals and then made their way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. Far from being irrelevant or petty administrative tribunals, these institutions have played a leading role in developing case law that now forms the backbone of equality law in Canada and is something that we now all take for granted. These include key cases that have outlawed sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and protected the rights of kids with disabilities to an education.

YE: You write about how human rights commissions are not solely about compensating claimants but also about helping to eradicate discrimination through public education. The courts, on the other hand, do not address the underlying systemic causes of discrimination, which you see as an argument for the tribunals, correct?

PE: This is an important point of the book. People often associate human rights commissions and tribunals with human rights complaints alone. This is understandable because complaints are the main point of contact with the human rights system. However, human rights commissions also have a legal obligation to speak out about human rights and to promote public awareness of human rights – these are very important parts of their mandate and fundamental to what these institutions are supposed to do as a matter of law. So when the Ontario Human Rights Commission spoke out against Mark Steyn’s writings about Muslims in Maclean’s, it was doing so as part of its legislated responsibility to speak out and to address issues of social tension independently of any human rights complaint.

I don’t think this is well understood among the public and it certainly is not a part of the work of human rights commissions that is being adequately addressed in many jurisdictions today. If people were more aware of this aspect – namely that promoting human rights is integral to what human rights commissions do – much of the so-called scandal around free speech in human rights would have been muted. 

YE: For much of Canadian history a laissez-faire approach prevailed, whereby the legal system refused to palliate inequities. Can you explain how this was upended partly by social movements?

PE: There’s a sad string of cases in Canadian law where courts were unable or unwilling to do much of anything about blatant discrimination and inequality. It really took the civil rights movement and the work of the labour movement to take the bull by the horns and push society at large as well as legislators to enact protections for workers, tenants, and those seeking public services. Had it been left to the courts or elected politicians alone, not much would have happened.

It is hard to believe that anyone wants to go back to the days of refusing to serve Fred Christie a beer.

YE: Certainly the employers who’ve had human rights cases lodged against them – and who own much of the media and fund many right-wing institutions – dislike these human rights commissions. And many of those hired to be commentators in the dominant media share this sentiment, if not always openly. So it seems naïve to write, as you do, that, “it is difficult to believe that anyone would want to return to a pre-rights world or move to one where market incentives are the sole or main policy response to discrimination.”

PE: I don’t think it is naïve. It is hard to believe that anyone wants to go back to the days of refusing to serve Fred Christie a beer. And it is counter-factual: polling data mentioned in the beginning of the book shows that the only issue dearer than healthcare to the hearts of Canadians is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That has to say something about the distance between the “dominant media” and the average Canadian. I believe the majority of Canadians are aware that human rights are important and support them. They are central to not only our constitutional structure as the fundamental law of the land, but also to Canada’s important international human rights commitments and its multiculturalism. What does strike me as naïve is that we should, as a country, entrench constitutional rights and then assert that it is an unintended or unwanted consequence of those constitutional commitments that we would actually have to respect them.


Yves Engler is the author of seven books. His most recent is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy.

This post was republished with permission from the Montreal Review of Books.

Published in Books
Saturday, 26 January 2013 15:43

98,000 immigrant applications tossed

By Gerald V. Paul Lawyers representing 1,000 people affected by the move to toss out nearly 98,000 immigration applications allege the government had discriminated based on the national origins of…

 

The Caribbean Camera

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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Mainmenu Wrapper

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Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Slider Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainframe Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image