I never expected to say this, but for the first time during Stephen Harper’s reign, I’m happy he has a majority.
You see, last week, while we were all focused on Harper’s undemocratic budget bill, the Conservatives were busy strengthening our democracy.
Conservatives voted unanimously to repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act with no help from the opposition, save one Liberal. The move was celebrated by the right and met with fear and fear-mongering by the left.
The removal of Section 13 is important because it limited the free speech of every Canadian by banning the communication of “hatred or contempt” over the internet or by phone.
Yes, that’s right. Before the Harper government’s bold move, it was against the Human Rights Act to express hate or contempt for people in Canada. If this weren’t absurd enough, the law was upheld by quasi-judicial bodies comprised of people with possibly no legal training.
These organizations have the power to hand out steep fines and ban people from communicating certain ideas. And, regrettably, they have become the stomping ground not of people with legitimate human rights concerns, but of those whose cases would be laughed out of a real court.
For those concerned with what I’m writing about, I highly recommend the book “Shakedown”, Ezra Levant’s passionately-written and occasionally-offensive testament to the absurdity of our “human rights” legislation.
Levant aside for the moment, I’ll continue with the queer angle of this subject, as is my sworn duty for Forget the Box.
In the same week that section 13 was repealed, a bill aiming to provide protections for trans people under the CHRA and the Criminal Code successfully passed its second reading. Liberals and New Democrats gave speeches in support of affirming the rights of trans people, and were eventually joined by some Conservatives to pass the vote (I don’t mean to make the trans-recognition legislation appear perfect and all-pretty—it’s certainly not—but I won’t get into that in this post).
Human rights laws were originally crafted to deal with rights violations as serious as those currently faced by trans people. If there’s one thing for which they were not intended, it’s preventing people from being offended. Yet that’s exactly what was being done.
Just as an example, in 2002, a Red Deer, Alberta newspaper ran a letter by Pastor Stephen Boissoin in which he condemned all things gay. “Homosexual rights activists and those that defend them,” he said, “are just as immoral as the pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps that plague our communities.”
Boissoin used the letter as a rallying cry, pleading with readers to “stand together and take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness that our lethargy has authorized to spawn.”
Despite not having committed a crime under the criminal code and never being charged in a court of law, Boissoin was fined $5000 (this, in addition to legal fees) and then banned from speaking out against queers by the Alberta HRC. He was actually forbidden from speaking what he believed to be the truth. In Canada. In the 21st century.
That people actually accept money as remuneration for offense they claim to have felt is insulting to those whose rights have actually been violated; they should be ashamed of themselves.
It might just be this shame that caused the plaintiff in the Alberta case to give the $5,000 to Egale, a leading gay rights legal group, instead of pocketing it himself. Quite tellingly, however, Egale refused the money. They had previously stated in an editorial that “while it is difficult to support Boissoin’s right to spew his misguided and vitriolic thoughts, support his right, we must.”
“If Boissoin was no longer able to share his views, then who might be next in also having their freedom of expression limited?” they asked.
To further Egale’s point, governments should not be in the business of censorship, regardless of how vile their citizens can be. Pushing potentially dangerous ideas—and the people who harbour them—underground does not make for a more tolerant society. It only disenfranchises these “potentially dangerous” people, removing the safety net that is the public gaze—a prospect radically more threatening than the possibility of being offended.
The repeal of section 13, however, is not the end of the road for regaining our free speech. Provincial governments still have their own human rights legislation with their own respective “section 13s” that must be removed.
Unfortunately, this won’t happen any time soon, given the widespread support by Liberals and New Democrats for these antiquated laws. How can we support these politicians who simultaneously tout their support for LGBT people while voting against our right to free speech? This hypocrisy must be brought to light.
For now, though, let’s celebrate our new found rights, afforded to us by a party so often found to be prescribing their limits.
* Images: National Post, Sun Media