The right to control thought

If human rights commissions have a place, it should be as public witnesses to social conduct gone awry. By examining the conduct, and the ideas behind that conduct, a human rights body can lay the issues bare for society to evaluate.

If human rights commissions have a place, it should be as public witnesses to social conduct gone awry. By examining the conduct, and the ideas behind that conduct, a human rights body can lay the issues bare for society to evaluate.

But by creating laws that must be arbitrated by a human rights commission, a government further entrenches the growing — and insidious — notion that rights commissions are another extension of the judiciary.

And by pushing human rights legislation into the realm of free speech, including in schools, government shows itself intent on controlling expressions of thought. Such a government also leaves itself open to influence by special interest groups.

Alberta’s human rights legislation — first passed in 1971 and revised in 1996 — prohibits discrimination in three areas: employment, public services and housing. It allows the commission to examine complaints based on, among other things, race, income, age and religion.

And Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett has introduced legislation (Bill 44) to include sexual orientation as cause for a rights complaint.

If it was as simple as that, and the examination of complaints was as prompt and transparent as possible, the Alberta Human Rights Commission could represent a useful tool in the evolution of social behaviour.

But free speech has become the purview of the Alberta commission — the Red Deer Advocate was embroiled in one such case, by publishing a letter to the editor. Far better that such complaints are dealt with through existing hate law. The court system has the clarity and the rigour to hear these issues in a far more efficient manner, and the power to deal with them upon judgment.

And now Blackett’s Bill 44, the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Amendment Act, proposes that the rights commission be allowed to examine how, and what, Alberta students are taught.

The amendment would give parents the right to take complaints to the commission about classroom material — or discussion — they find offensive or objectionable. The reforms would allow parents to remove children from a class that explicitly examines “human sexuality, religion and sexual orientation.”

The amendment is flawed on several fronts:

• Public school is intended to provide a broad-based education for a broad-based student body. Censoring content, either by removing students in the face of content or by stifling that content, flies in the face of true education.

It would be far better if the parents concerned, for example, about material on evolution place their children in private Christian schools (where public funding is available).

• Discussion is a natural part of quality education; students need to raise and consider ideas from all directions. Tailoring classroom discussion to avoid potentially contentious topics is both restrictive and insulting to teachers and students questing for knowledge.

• If sexual orientation is to become cause for a human rights complaint under the amendment, and parents are allowed to remove their children from classroom discussions about sexual orientation, are they flying in the face of the legislation? What if their children are gay?

Human rights protection should be fundamental. So too should be the right to examine ideas in their fullness. A society can’t progress and blossom without faithfulness to both ideals.

Human rights legislation shouldn’t restrict either ideal.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Samson Cree Nation Pow Wow

The Samson Cree Nation hosted its annual Pow Wow, celebrating youth last weekend

Come play at Medicine River Wildlife Centre

Grand opening of new playground

Red Deer group looking to keep roads safe for cyclists

A Red Deer cycling group is concerned about road safety after multiple… Continue reading

Smoke and pets do not mix

Take care of your pets during the smoky weather

WATCH: Raising money for kids at the Gord Bamford Charity Golf Classic

Former NHL players, Olympians, pro rodeo circuit members and musicians teed off… Continue reading

Canadian soccer captain Christine Sinclair continues to lead fight against MS

TORONTO — Christine Sinclair continues to have an impact on and off… Continue reading

In Franklin’s anthems, women heard an empowering message

NEW YORK — Aretha Franklin never saw herself as a feminist heroine.… Continue reading

Happy birthday Boler: 100s of cute campers in Winnipeg for anniversary gathering

WINNIPEG — Angela Durand sits outside her camper which is decorated to… Continue reading

Merkel, Putin share a headache: Donald Trump

FRANKFURT — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will… Continue reading

Tim Hortons says its China expansion will include menu with congee, matcha

TORONTO — The president of Tim Hortons says a plan to conquer… Continue reading

Trump suggests Canada has been sidelined from latest NAFTA negotiations

OTTAWA — U.S. President Donald Trump is suggesting Canada has deliberately been… Continue reading

Photographer files complaint with police after alleged assault while on the job

TORONTO — A Toronto newspaper photographer said he opted to file a… Continue reading

Annual inflation rate jumped to 3.0% in July, highest reading since 2011

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says higher gasoline prices helped push the country’s… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month