Reform of HRCs Arrested in Alberta… for now



July 2, 2011

Back in 2009, Alberta ’s minister for Culture and Community Spirit, Lindsay Blackett, said that the province’s Commission and Tribunal shouldn’t be in the business of regulating speech. He also mentioned that the AHRC was “operating like a kangaroo court.” That was quite something, considering the human rights agencies fell under his portfolio.

He pledged to kick-start reforms with the repeal of the speech provisions of the human rights act.

Two months later, the promise never materialized. Instead, the Commission received expanded powers and a bigger budget. An obviously frustrated Blackett said he didn’t have consensus from his caucus for the repeal, and wasn’t interested in pursuing something so divisive. Premier Ed Stelmach even defended the restrictions to freedom of expression, noting that “recognizing the responsibilities that come with freedom of expression is also important.”

Fast forward to 2011. Just this week, in an interview with Ezra Levant, Blackett revealed that it wasn’t so much a divided caucus that opposed reform – it was Stelmach himself. And any such reforms appear to be off the table, as far as the Progressive Conservatives are concerned.

The Wildrose party (formerly Wildrose Alliance) has stepped into the void, nailing a plank into their platform by passing a resolution to abolish the Human Rights Commission and strengthen protections for freedom of expression. Saskatchewan is already in the process of doing similar reforms, disbanding its Tribunal and sending human rights cases to the courts.

If any province is ready to demonstrate that the Commissions and Tribunals are an obsolete appendage of a bygone era, it’s . There is considerable popular support for reform, reducing the political risk of moving in this direction. All of ’s provincial political parties could benefit from a pledge to constructively reform the Human Rights Code, beginning first and foremost with a repeal of 3(1)(b).

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