In a letter to the Calgary Herald, responding to an op/ed column written by John Carpay, Dr Darren Lund — who precipitated a Canada-wide controversy when he filed a complaint against Red Deer’s Reverend Stephen Boisson over Boisson’s expression of his religious beliefs — objects to Carpay’s portrayal of human rights commissions as eroding Canadian democracy.
Dr Lund insists that it is actually opponents of human rights commissions who threaten to erode democracy.
Dr Lund takes some time out in his letter to pursue his own personal vendettas. Beyond that, the following are the highlights from his letter:
“Something remarkable is happening in Alberta. Despite determined efforts by some alarmist columnists, the public and our government stubbornly refuse to be afraid of anti-hate legislation. For a few years now, a number of news editors and columnists have railed against human rights commissions, and particularly Section 3, which protects against hate speech. The one-sided argument has typically urged people to protect hateful publications, as if doing so somehow protects our freedoms.“
“The underfunded human rights commissions are an easy target for extremists, but even a cursory glance through the summary of their rulings offers ample proof that they respond to discrimination in remarkably sensible ways. Rights complaint cases do not require the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and resulting criminal convictions, that inevitably accompany criminal court actions.
Free speech is actually not under assault in Canada. Rights commissions, in fact, only respond to specific complaints. They do not have the ability to “go after” free speech. Carpay cites the Levant spectacle, in which the failed publisher printed sacrilegious and offensive cartoons, and which was dismissed anyway.“
“Those who spew or protect hate speech while praising freedom are lying to us.
Most Albertans understand this, and see hate-mongers for what they are: a threat to our democracy.
Responsible citizens need to have an effective way to stand up against such bullies. In panel and tribunal rulings across Canada, just as in Alberta, tribunal and panel chairs have taken on the challenging and important task of setting reasonable limits on what can be said and published in the public domain. All rulings take into consideration the status of the writer, the local context, and the impact on those targeted.
Reasonable limits on free speech only appear to frighten those who wish to use their words to bully or dehumanize people. Reasonable people accept some limits on hateful invective.
Even the most staunchly free-speech-supporting scholars, such as my learned civil libertarian colleague, Alan Borovoy, agree that we require some limits.
Courts and panels have rightly found that Canadians will not accept publications or speech that strip away the dignity and safety of vulnerable people. Sure, it’s complex work, but most of us support efforts to stand up to hatred and discrimination. One way we can stand strong against hateful bullies is by supporting strong and careful rights legislation.
Rights codes and their commissions need improved funding and support. Along with responsible editorial work of daily newspapers, rights commissions continue to play a key role in keeping our democracy robust and protecting real freedoms for all of us.“
Most of those who have met Dr Lund would agree that he is a well-intentioned invidual. However, he is paving a road to hell for Canada’s civil liberties with his good intentions. So for the purpose of preserving those civil liberties, good intentions be damned.
What Dr Lund unfortunately imagines for Alberta — and for Canada — is a dystopic vision of human rights in which certain rights, including imaginary rights such as the right to not be offended, trump other human rights. The human right to free expression — as entrenched in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms — is one right that he imagines must suffer so he can build what he imagines to be a utopia of mutual tolerance and respect.
That the law cannot actually legislate against hatred — this is impossible — is something that Dr Lund does not seem to realize. Moreover, even if the law were to attempt to legislate against hatred, such laws would also violate the Charter — in this case, freedom of conscience.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau once insisted that the law has no place in Canadian bedrooms, and he was entirely correct. Canadians are now waking up to the reality that the law has no place in Canadians’ minds. Naturally, people like Dr Lund, who seem to imagine such a place for Canadian law, resent this very idea. It’s clear in his potshot taken at Ezra Levant.
Dr Lund may have good intentions, but he is correct about very little in his letter.
Dr Lund certainly is correct that a dominant majority of Canadians are offended by hate speech. What Lund is wrong about is any perceived belief that Canadians favour star chamber-style persecutions of those whose opinions are deemed offensive by people like Lund.
Dr Lund is also correct that most Canadians are of the view that free speech is limited. What Lund does not understand is that free speech is best regulated by the response of those within the community. Freedom of speech is best limited by the means by which we respond to offensive speech. It is best combatted by the derision and scorn of neighbours, not by the sledgehammer of unrestrained judicial fiat.
Most of all, Dr Lund is correct that democracy needs means by which citizens can protect themselves from bullying. However, Alberta’s democracy is not in need of such protective measures. They already exist, in the form of the criminal code.
Yet the criminal code also presents obstacles that individuals like Lund have demonstrated a preference to not have to hurdle. Criminal trials bring with them proper rules of evidence, and they at least require probable cause!
Unlike human rights commissions, criminal courts do not allow for the Minority Report-style speculative justice meted out in the Lund vs Boisson debacle. Criminal trials require that an actual act has been committed, or that such an act has at least been planned, not that such a crime may be committed — and by someone else, no less!
In fact, what Darren Lund promotes as naturally democratic is in fact profoundly undemocratic. Human rights commissions have empowered individuals of questionable legal expertise to run wild with rules that are simply too loose and too fast.
For example, in the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal’s persecution of comedian Guy Earle, the tribunal declined to rule on a question of jurisdiction until after the tribunal’s proceedings had ended. After the tribunal had issued a ruling against Earle, was there any remote possibility that it would rule that it has no jurisidction in the matter?
There was absolutely none. And that is precisely how much chance a great many Canadians have found that they stood within tribunals that pit them against state-funded lawyers.
That is also how much chance many of the rulings issued by these tribunals have stood in an actual court of law. This includes the ruling Dr Lund won against Stephen Boisson, and the ruling issued against Bill Whatcott.
Dr Lund is correct in noting that the views of Boisson and Whatcott are atrocious. They are also inexcorable. The law cannot forcably change their views, only punish them if they express them.
That is precisely what Dr Darren Lund has demanded. Moreover, he has mustered the Orwellian temerity to describe the suppression of the expression of such worldviews and the persecution of those who hold them as “democratic”.
Arguing that Reverend Stephen Boisson and Bill Whatcott are bad people is a thin argument. Arguing that the people who defend their right to express views that they find despicable are bad people is thinner still. Each makes an exceedingly poor basis for any kind of judicial law.