Conservative grassroots favour freedom of expression

By 
  • November 18, 2008
{mosimage}OTTAWA - Grassroots Conservatives want Ottawa to gut the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s power to investigate and punish free expression complainants deem hateful or discriminatory.

At the Conservative Party’s second policy conference in Winnipeg Nov. 13-15 delegates passed resolution P-203 to “remove authority from the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal to regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints related to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.” Subsection 13.1 of the Act is the so-called thought crimes provision that allows the commission to investigate anything that is “likely” to expose a group or individual to hatred or contempt. No proof of harm is necessary and truth is no defence under this subsection.
“We’re very glad that the grassroots are being able to have their say on some of these momentous issues,” said REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwendolyn Landolt.

The more than 1,200 delegates also voted in favour of a resolution that was similar to Ken Epp’s private member’s Unborn Victims of Crime Bill C-484. That bill, which would penalize people who hurt of killed an unborn child while committing a crime, died at the dissolution of the last Parliament.

“Freedom of speech and the right to life are certainly integral human rights we would like to see upheld,” said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry. “I certainly hope policies will be followed by legislative initiatives.”

“These issues are serious enough for our society that people must adopt positions on them,” said McGill Christian studies professor Douglas Farrow. “I’m glad to see the Conservative caucus expressing themselves clearly.”

Canada’s Justice Minister Rob Nicholson voted in favour of both policy resolutions, even though his department has continued to defend Section 13.1 before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

But it remains to be seen how these resolutions will translate into legislation as the 40th Parliament was to open Nov. 19.

Public pressure to reform human rights commissions, both federal and provincial, has mounted since the Canadian Islamic Congress announced a year ago its human rights complaints against Maclean’s magazine for running an excerpt of Mark Steyn’s book America Alone. The congress filed complaints in three jurisdictions: Ontario, the federal commission and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, which held a five-day trial of the magazine before dismissing the complaint.

Steyn and former Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant, who faced complaints for republishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons, have led a widening campaign to, in Levant’s words, “denormalize" human rights commissions, both on the Internet and in the mainstream media. Many columnists have raised concerns about out-of-control commission, as have editorial boards of major newspapers across the country and organizations like PEN Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists.

But McGarry pointed out publicity may not translate into legislation, though she said she expects it is more likely in the case of the rights commission than unborn victims.

Landolt pointed out the resolutions are not binding on the government, but they send a message from the party’s socially conservative base.

“They’ve been given a warning, a red flag has gone up,” she said.

Nicholson had undermined Ken Epp’s Unborn Victims of Crime Bill C-484 before the election, saying the government would not support it but would bring in tougher Criminal Code provisions to protect pregnant women. Though he voted for the similar convention resolution, he reiterated his pledge to bring in government legislation that would stiffen penalties for those who harm pregnant women, without recognizing the unborn victim. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has vowed to prevent any reopening of the abortion debate.

At the convention, Harper signaled he would take a pragmatic, non-ideological approach to governing Parliament, focusing on the current economic crisis.

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