Bernie Farber, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, on human rights commission complaints against Macleans Magazine and Mark Steyn:
Steyn's observations are not actionable under the law and the complaints against them fall outside the mandate of human rights commissions. Borovoy ignores the salient passages of the Supreme Court of Canada's 1990 decision in the John Ross Taylor case, which upheld the constitutionality of the Canadian Human Rights Act's anti-hate provisions. In so doing, the court established guidelines for hate-based complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Most relevant, the court noted that "hatred or contempt" refers "only to unusually strong and deep-felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification."
The commission's investigation of Steyn shows it has lost sight of the legislation's original purpose and the narrow fence it establishes against truly discriminatory speech. Such speech violates core Canadian values and has been upheld as a reasonable limitation of free expression precisely because of that incompatibility.
So by all means, let's tweak the law to eliminate some of its discretionary elements. Amendments could call for an ombudsperson to adjudicate objectively if the complaints meet the high threshold for action, or cost consequences for applicants who bring frivolous complaints.
But the Canadian Jewish Congress supports the act as it was originally intended: to protect minorities in Canada from speech that truly vilifies or discriminates.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto