I don’t like to admit it, but my kids argue. I’d like all of you to believe what you see in the family picture…three friendly, smiling children and two doting parents huddling on a park bench, the red and yellow fall leaves spilling gently behind them.
What you don’t see in this idyllic picture is my elbow pitted sharply against one of my kids in an attempt to keep them from yelling at the one beside him. You don’t see the moments between takes, when my seven-year-old shuffles and jockeys for space, and the two elder grouch and grumble about his selfishness.
I’m sure this is a familiar scene to some of you. Parents: don’t we wish we could control not only our children’s words and behavior, but also their feelings? Too bad it’s impossible. You may be able to force an apology out of your kids on pain of punishment, but you can’t make them mean it.
In a home, an enforced peace keeps life quiet. But on a societal level, trying to control people’s opinions and thoughts is not a sign of democracy, but of fascism.
I think this is what Human Rights Commissions try to achieve in Canada…they want to control how people think to encourage peace. Not only is it impossible, it’s dangerous.
Human Rights Commissions across Canada are empowered by the Canadian Human Rights Act, which was first established in 1977. The purpose of the Act, so stated, is 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 and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origins, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.”
What wonderful intentions for our great country. Canada should be a place where all can make an enviable life for themselves, without fear of discrimination.
However, every democracy is only as healthy as the citizens who live within it, and frankly, judging by some of the rulings that have come out of these Human Rights Commissions in the last few years, some of you are getting pretty whiny.
The problem with at least a couple of recent decisions by tribunals across the country is that persons accused seem to be guilty until proven innocent—and when the defendant is found guilty, they’re left with a pile of bills, while the applicant’s complaint is paid by the taxpayer.
Here are a couple of recent examples.
On June 18, 2009, The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled that Police Constable Michael Shaw did discriminate against Ronald Phipps, temporary mail carrier, when he stopped and questioned him on March 9, 2005. There are some disputed facts in the case between the applicant and the constable, but the basic story goes that Phipps, on his second day as a temporary mail carrier in a wealthy Toronto neighborhood, caught Shaw’s eye while on patrol. Shaw was assigned to the area where Phipps was delivering mail because of reports of phone lines being cut by suspects described as male, white and East European. Phipps is Afro-Canadian. Constable Shaw asserts that he realized that this was not the usual letter carrier. Shaw noticed Phipps was not stopping to deliver mail at every house and had crisscrossed back to houses he had previously visited.
Because of this, Shaw, along with a partner, stopped Phipps to question him and ask for identification. When a background check proved clear, he was sent on his way. Shaw questioned another regular mail carrier in the area, who assured him that Phipps was indeed a temp.
Subsequently, Phipps made a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, believing the police officers’ decision to stop and question him was because of his skin colour and he testified that he was upset, dazed and in shock.
Four years later, Kaye Joachim, the adjudicator with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, agreed. The panel found Shaw and the Toronto Police Commission guilty and stated in the ruling dated June 18, 2009 that “There is no need to establish an intention or motivation to discriminate; the focus of the enquiry is on the effect of the respondent’s actions on the complainant.”
Contrast this decision with July’s kerfuffle in the U.S. regarding Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Junior, who was arrested in Cambridge Massachusetts, while breaking into his own house. Mr. Gates had misplaced his keys upon returning from a trip to China. President Obama, who is a personal friend of the professor, weighed in on the state of race relations in America at a press conference, saying “The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.” Later, Obama had to do some damage control when the police officer maintained publicly that he was just doing his job.
In this case, Phipps was not manhandled or arrested. He was not shown undue force like the well-known case of Robert Dziekanski, who was killed by several tazer shots at the hands of police in a BC airport in 2007. Shaw questioned (perhaps embarrassed is a better word) Phipps in an area where surveillance was taking place. Was Shaw guilty of being hyper-sensitive to anyone unfamiliar or remotely suspicious? Maybe. Were Shaw’s actions the result of subconscious racism? According to the Tribunal, it doesn’t matter, because the applicant thinks the policeman was motivated by racism, and the effect of that belief is enough.
Sets a powerful precedent, don’t you think?
Columnist Lorne Gunter commented on this ruling in the National Post, Friday, July 31, 2009. He said, “Rights Commissions were set up to be simple forums for settling discrimination complaints. They were never intended to be taxpayer-funded cudgels with which activists and grievers may beat their enemies without the expenses of a court case, and without the need to follow the rules of due process.” He believes the tribunals should be disbanded because they are biased.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has lofty goals, including being, “respectful of the dignity of each person and their right to be free from discrimination and to be kept fully informed.” But they talk about their ‘excellent customer service,’ as though they were a gas station where people can go pick up their rights on a store shelf! Strange language, but we’re used to hearing it in this societal atmosphere of hyper-individualism. If I’m not completely satisfied, can I return my experience for a full refund?
Another example drives the point home further.
In May, 2008, The Human Rights Panel of Alberta ruled against Rev. Stephen Boissoin and the Concerned Christian Coalition, Inc. in favour of the applicant, Darren E. Lund, a local citizen. The panel believed that Boissoin’s strongly-worded letter to the editor in the Red Deer Advocate was “likely to expose homosexuals to hatred or contempt because of their sexual orientation.”
Boissoin’s letter protested homosexual activism on religious grounds and was particularly concerned about organized homosexual advocacy or support systems in public schools.
No specific person was mentioned in the letter, and there was no incitement to physical violence. Lund complained, however, and the ruling was quite extreme, indeed.
Panel Chair Lori Andreachuk ordered Rev. Boisson to cease publishing his views on this subject ‘in newspapers, by e-mail, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet.’ He was ordered to pay compensation of $5000 to Darren Lund, (who was not named in the letter) and further to make a public recantation of beliefs he still holds. Additional damages of up to $2000 were awarded to another witness, and the ruling demanded a written apology to be printed in the Red Deer Advocate. This ruling is under appeal.
A public recantation of beliefs? The state is telling a citizen that he’s not even allowed to hold the religious belief that homosexuality is a sin? Come on. How many times have you read something in a letter to the editor by a hot-head that made you a little crazy? So what? Do you really want to throw away the overarching rights of freedom of expression and freedom of religion (that protect all of us) just so that an example can be made of one guy?
If being offended or insulted can rightly be called, ‘discrimination,’ then I have several people (including a couple of close relatives) about whom I could submit a complaint! Maybe I could make a few bucks.
Incidentally, as I write this, my two youngest children are having an argument, and the elder just stormed to her room and slammed the door. I could try to get them to apologize, but could I make them mean it? Maybe I should just let them work it out.