Civil Liberties

Defending Canada's "Human Rights" Commissions


Who will mourn for the beleaguered Canadian censors? Jennifer Lynch, the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, is oddly insecure in the face of criticism. In Canada's popular Globe & Mail newspaper, Lynch defends her Commission's mandate to punish Internet speech that could "expose an individual or a group of individuals to hatred or contempt" and responds to critics:

I believe critics of human-rights commissions and tribunals are manipulating information and activities around rights cases and freedom of expression to further a new agenda. This agenda posits that rights commissions and tribunals, and the attendant vigilance over all the rights and freedoms Canadians now enjoy, no longer serve a useful purpose. In this way, the debate over freedom of expression has been used as a wedge to undermine and distort our human-rights system.

How dastardly of them to…present arguments. For her part, Lynch offers an astoundingly weak justification for censorship, explaining that it's all about "balance":

Tolerance and open-mindedness are ideals to which Canadians have subscribed, and are part of the quest for equality that has come to define our country all over the world. They are the foundation of the Canadian Human Rights Act, whose promise is to give effect "to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have" without discrimination….

There is no hierarchy of rights with some rights having greater importance than others. They work together toward a common purpose.

It is up to legislators and courts to find the appropriate balance that best protects the human rights and freedoms of all citizens.

Nevermind that Lynch's job is to create that hierarchy of rights, privileging a right not to be offended over a right to free expression; that her commission has the disturbing freedom to pick and choose which vaguely-defined rights (and rights-holders) will be recognized and protected; and that free expression and a right not to be offended are fundamentally incompatible and can never be consistently "balanced." If this is the best Lynch has, she should expect many more manipulative critics with their distortions and wedge arguments in the future.

For a firsthand account from one man at the business end of Canadian human rights law enforcement, see Ezra Levant's feature in the June print edition of Reason.