Monday, June 14, 2010

Ezra Levant Calls for the Repeal of Section 13 of the Human Rights Act

Ezra Levant was asked recently what advice he would give the Conservative government and he responded with this piece. I agree with him 100%. Let us hope Stephen Harper is listening.

The Conservative government is getting the big issue of the day right: the economy. Canada leads the G7 nations in almost every measure; we were the last into the recession and the first out, and it was less deep here than in other countries. Not a single Canadian bank failed or had to be bailed out. Contrast that with the ongoing debt crisis in Europe and America's 10 per cent unemployment rate. It's not surprising that Canada's opposition parties and the media have chosen instead to focus on ephemera or spectacles, like the Jaffer-Guergis story.

The government is wise to concentrate on the issues that matter to Canadians and to tune out the chattering class in Ottawa. But there is a policy project they should adopt: reforming the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).

The CHRC is the largest of Canada's 14 human rights commissions, and it has been the most aggressive censor. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act gives the CHRC the power to prosecute anyone who publishes anything on the internet that is "likely to expose a person ... to hatred or contempt.” It's an incredibly vague offense, which is why for 32 years the CHRC had a 100 per cent conviction rate on all of their prosecutions, until the law was finally declared unconstitutional last fall. (The CHRC is appealing.)

The government should not wait for the question of political censorship to work its way through the courts. It should act now to repeal Section 13 and to make other badly needed reforms to the CHRC, including bringing in a civil liberties oversight committee to monitor abuses by CHRC staff, who have admitted under oath to publishing anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-gay material themselves in an effort to entrap citizens. A full-scale audit of the CHRC's policies by the auditor general is also in order, especially given the failing grade the CHRC received in a confidential internal government audit.

This is good policy: the CHRC has increasingly used its censorship powers as a political weapon, picking on religious Christians and conservative activists, even as it strenuously avoided prosecuting any politically correct "haters," such as radical Muslims. Simply put, censorship in the age of the internet isn't just ethically inappropriate, it's practically impossible – in other words, a perpetual source of work and expense for empire-building bureaucrats. It should be shut down.

From a political point of view, it's a winner for the government. Standing up for freedom of expression puts the government on the side of groups that traditionally have liberal sympathies, from artists and authors to civil libertarians. Even groups like Egale Canada, the gay rights lobby, have called for the repeal of Section 13, along with the likes of PEN Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists. It would be a win for the government to have them as allies.

Other than those who earn their living from human rights commissions or file complaints there against their political enemies, there are no supporters of Section 13 in the whole political spectrum. I appeared before Parliament's Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the subject last year, and I was impressed by the concern that all parties had about the abusive censorship of the CHRC. Based on my interactions with various Liberal and NDP MPs, I sense that the opposition would not take a party-line stance against such reforms. Even Ujjal Dosanjh, a left-wing Liberal, hinted to reporters after that meeting that he could be satisfied with repealing Section 13 and keeping the Criminal Code provisions against hate speech, which are not as easily abused.

Repealing Section 13 and deeply reforming the culture of the CHRC is a political winner. It would strengthen the government's civil libertarian bona fides. It would appeal to the party's base, which correctly senses that the CHRC is on an anti-conservative warpath. It would likely garner enough opposition votes to pass – and if an opposition leader insisted on opposing such reforms, it would likely cause splits in those opposition caucuses. (Michael Ignatieff has written against censorship in the past; he would be hard pressed to defend it today.)

Getting the economy right is important. But ending the 33-year record of abuse at the Canadian Human Rights Commission is important, too. It's the right policy decision. It will appeal to the party's base and impress civil libertarians outside the party. It will win support across the aisle – and pose problems for any opposition leader who tries to fight it.

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