Protect Freedom of Speech & Conscience – Reform the Human Rights Act



April 25, 2008


In Depth Report &

Action Alert

April 15, 2008

Protect Freedom of Speech & Conscience – Reform the Human Rights Act

I) Does Free Speech Matter?

II) Take Action: Reform the Human Rights Commission – M446

III) History of Canada’s Human Rights Commissions

IV) HRCs’ Jurisdictional Expansion

V) Government Interference in Free Speech

VI) Hate Crimes Provision of the Human Rights Act

VII) Problems with Section 13(1) of the HRA

“I am a Canadian,

a free Canadian,
free to speak without fear,
free to worship in my own way,
free to stand for what I think right,
free to oppose what I believe wrong,
free to choose those who shall govern my country.
This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”
Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, July 1, 1960, House of Commons


Many times in the history of the world people of faith and conscience have been called upon to fight to defend their liberties.

We need to do so today.

In recent years Human Rights Commissions (HRCs) have expanded their jurisdiction into areas never intended by their founders. They are now being used by activists to legally censor and persecute individuals who hold differing beliefs.

I) Does Free Speech matter?

Free speech serves a fundamental purpose for humanity: to further truth.

It is only through freedom of conscience and expression that we are able to debate ideas in our search for truth, and the promotion of the common good.

As a society our commitment to freedom of speech means that we have to individually and collectively put up with a certain amount of verbal garbage – words that we may find personally offensive, even hurtful.

It is vital that government not interfere with this free exchange of ideas unless speech is deemed to meet the high criteria established by the civil courts for slanderous or deceptive speech, or the criminal courts for speech deemed to be fraudulent, seditious or treacherous.

II) Take Action: Reform the Human Rights Commission – M446!

“I believe these complaints were an attempt to intimidate and silence me.”

Bishop Fred Henry, the subject of two human rights complaints in 2005

Increasingly, human rights commissions are being used to penalize the expression of unpopular opinions.

This abuse has been facilitated by commissioners who have broadened the interpretation of the Human Rights Act over the years in order to censor certain opinions and move forward other agendas.

On January 30, Liberal MP Keith Martin (Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca) introduced Private Members’ Motion M-446 in order to draw attention to abuses that have been taking place in provincial and federal Human Rights Commissions and begin the process of addressing them.

His motion specifically calls for the removal of the controversial hate crimes provision Subsection 13(1) from the Canadian Human Rights Act. (See: )

Take Action:

Step 1 – Send your 1 click letter today! “Reform the Human Rights Commission – Support M446”

All it takes is 5 minutes to make a difference.

Step 2 – Phone Your MP!

Follow up your letter with a phone call to your MP’s office to express your concerns about the stifling of free speech by Human Rights Commissions, the need for these commissions to be reformed, and request that your MP support M-446 as a first step towards reforming the commissions.

MP contact information available here:

III) History of Canada’s Human Rights Commissions

“During the years when my colleagues and I were labouring to create such commissions we never imagined that they might ultimately be used against freedom of speech.”

Alan Borovoy, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and foundational father of the first Human Rights Commission in Canada

Provincial and federal HRCs were established during the 1960’s and 1970’s to investigate and try to settle complaints of discrimination involving employment, delivery of services, and housing based on race or gender.

The first to be established was the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1961.(See: ) Its job was to administer Ontario’s Human Rights Code. (see: )

In 1977 the Canadian Human Rights Commission (See: ) was established to administer the Canadian Human Rights Act. (See: )

IV) HRCs’ Jurisdictional Expansion

“If we ever lose our freedom in this country … the job will be done to us not by malevolent autocrats seeking to do bad, but by parochial bureaucrats seeking to do good.”

Alan Borovoy, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Human Rights Commissions have undergone a profound shift over the past forty years from their noble intentions to be protectors of human rights to their current actions as activists – “advancing” specific human rights by expanding their jurisdiction into areas never originally intended by the Human Rights Act.

Since the establishment of HRCs in the 1960’s and 1970’s, those who served on these commissions came to view their role not only as protectors of human rights but as advancers of human rights, whatever they deemed that agenda to be.

As former CHRC chief commissioner Michelle Falardeau-Ramsay, Q.C. outlined in a 2002 report, “Our mission is: to protect and advance human rights by providing a forceful, independent and credible voice for promoting equality in Canada.”

(See )

Current chief commissioner Jennifer Lynch, Q.C. states in her 2008 report, “We are now ready to reach further—to be an even more proactive and influential catalyst for moving forward on human rights issues, both nationally and internationally.” (See: )

V) Government Interference in Free Speech

“Human rights laws, designed as a shield, are now being used as a sword….The issue is rarely true discrimination but rather censorship and enshrinement of a particular ideology through threats, sanctions and punitive measures.”

Bishop Fred Henry, the subject of two human rights complaints in 2005

MP Keith Martin has raised the concern that through Human Rights Tribunals “someone could be using the power of the state for their own private initiative…[for] one person’s private crusade.”

Indeed that has been the case in recent years. Activists have chosen to bypass the civil and criminal courts in order to gain access to tax payers’ money via these commissions to fund their prosecution of those who express differing opinions.

(It costs nothing to lodge a complaint. The resources of the state are available to the complainant and there is no penalty for launching frivolous complaints as there would be in a civil court. The individual targeted by the complaint, however, is saddled with the presumption of guilt until proven innocent and has no similar financial resources available from the State for their defence. They are thus left with a profound legal bill, upwards of $40,000 to defend themselves, often much more.)

Thus, unelected bureaucratic bodies have effectively lowered the bar for government interference into our freedom of speech and provided the means for activists to not only punish, but financially burden, and attempt to silence those with differing opinions.

VI) Hate Crimes Provisions of the Human Rights Act

Section 13.1 of the Human Rights Act – the hate crimes provision – has been increasingly used to inflict damage on our fundamental right to freedom of expression.

A small sample of those targeted for hate crimes in recent years include: politicians like London, Ontario, mayor Dianne Haskett and Christian Heritage Party leader Ron Gray; business proprietors like printer Scott Brockie; organizations like the Knights of Columbus in Port Coquitlam, B.C.; Faith leaders like Bishop Fred Henry and Reverend Stephen Boissoin; civil servants like Saskatchewan marriage commissioner Orville Nichols; websites like; and publications like Catholic Insight Magazine and the Western Standard.

Cases were won often on the basis that the complainants “feelings were hurt.”

For the most part, the main stream media ignored these cases. However, they quickly took notice when Macleans magazine and journalist Mark Steyn were the recipients of human rights complaints arising from the publication of the article, “The Future Belongs to Islam,” an excerpt from Steyn’s book, America Alone.

Suddenly newspapers, radio, and television were expressing concern over freedom of speech in Canada and the need to rein in the Human Rights Commissions.

Last week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission decided not to proceed with complaints filed against Maclean’s magazine. Nevertheless the commission strongly condemned the article for “contributing to Islamophobia” even though they never officially investigated the complaint! (See: )

Worth Reading: “Free Speech Takes a Hit” is an editorial on the Stephen Boissoin case in Alberta that highlights many of the pitfalls of the HRCs (See: )

VII) Problems with section 13(1) of the Human Rights Act

“This provision has the capacity to authorize pervasive censorship. Hardly the role we had envisioned for human rights commissions.”

Alan Borovoy, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

There are many aspects of Human Rights Commissions that are troublesome.

Concerns raised include the following: the replacement of the presumption of innocence with the presumption of guilt until one can prove one’s innocence; the lengthy, open ended time lines commissions use in dealing with a complaint; the absence of traditional rules of evidence, due process and court procedures; personal biases of the commissioners; and the one-sided nature of the commissions in providing state resources to the complainant while the defendant must provide and pay for his own legal council as he attempts to prove his innocence.

However, the most controversial section of the Canadian Human Rights Act is the hate crimes provision, Section 13.1, which states that it is discriminatory to communicate any material by telecommunications “that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.”

There are four principle problems with this section.

Problem #1: It is being used to stifle free speech.

Human rights commissions were never meant to limit free speech, but rather to protect citizens from discrimination in employment, housing and services.

The tribunals have demonstrated in their rulings that freedom of speech has now been preempted by the right of an individual not to be “offended,” or exposed to hatred and contempt.

As the CBC’s Rex Murphy commented, “If Mark Steyn’s article offended, then so what? Not every article in every magazine or newspaper is meant to be a valentine card addressed to every reader’s self esteem. Macleans published a bushel of letters following the article’s appearance. Some praised it. Others scorned it. That’s freedom of speech. That’s democracy. That’s the messy business we call the exchange of ideas and opinions.”

Problem #2: “Likely.”

HRCs can punish people for something that has not actually happened, but which is simply “likely,” or even just theoretically possible.

MP Keith Martin described this legal test of “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” as a “hole you could drive a Mack truck through,” and said it was being applied by “rogue commissions where a small number of people [were] determining what Canadians can and can’t say.”

Problem # 3: Truth is not a defence.

As Alan Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association explained, “That’s the thing about these sections. Intent is not a requirement, and truth and reasonable belief in the truth is no defence.” Thus, it doesn’t matter if what you say is true, or could be considered true by a reasonable person. If it hurts someone’s feelings you are guilty.

Problem # 4: Conviction Rates.

In almost every hate speech case taken on by provincial and national HRCs, the commissions have found the defendant guilty.

As Lorne Gunter pointed out in an Edmonton Journal article, ”All you need to know about how rotten the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) is – how undemocratic and anti-freedom it has become – is that in hate speech complaints, the commission has a 100 per-cent conviction rate. No one who has ever been hauled before it for allegedly uttering hate speech has ever been acquitted.” (See: )

VIII) Partner with Us in 2008

I wish to express our sincere gratitude to those of you who have reached out and partnered with us financially this year! We couldn’t do it without you!

If you have not yet done so, please consider partnering with us today.

To be as effective as we must be in our work to defend children, family, faith and freedom, we depend on your continued support.

Will you help?

Can you share $35, $85 $150, $500? We need your help today!

By committing as little as $8 a month ($25/quarter) you will greatly help us in our efforts to impact our nation for the better. Please consider becoming quarterly donor today.

To become a quarterly donor or send your one time donation, please visit our secure website:

To donate by mail:

United Mothers

P.O. Box 234

339-10 Ave., S.E.

Calgary, AB

T2G 0W2

United Mothers is a registered not-for-profit organization. However, due to the advocacy based nature of our work, we are unable to issue tax receipts.

Thank you for your support and continued efforts!

Michele Dow

Freedom of Speech, Human Rights Commission Email Us 

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