Time to 'blow them up and start again'
January 24, 2008
by Claire Hoy
There's an old saying that those who live in tin houses shouldn't be tossing can openers. Alan Borovoy, Canada's leading civil libertarian, should have considered that back in the 1970s when he led the charge to expand Ontario's human rights commission well beyond anything ever imagined by either Ottawa or any other province at time.
Now it seems, Borovoy, long-time counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, regrets the direction that these human rights commissions have taken, particularly in two controversial cases involving press freedoms, in particular complaints against Ezra Levant, publisher of the now-defunct Western Standard magazine, for publishing the controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed two years ago.
Writing recently in a western newspaper, Borovoy moaned that being a "censor" is "hardly the role we had envisioned for human rights commissions. There should be no question of the right to publish the impugned cartoons ... It would be best, therefore, to change the provisions of the Human Rights Act to remove any such ambiguities of interpretation."
Borovoy knows, or should know, it's not a question of "ambiguities." As a key player in the first major expansion of these commissions under the decidedly red-Tory government of Bill Davis, Borovoy simply scoffed at those of us who predicted this would happen.
It didn't take a great genius to foresee the results. After all, if you set up an all-powerful, all-knowing commission, with little if any responsibility to anybody, stacked with true believers, and tilt the entire system so that anyone accused is guilty until proven innocent - a proof which rarely happens - it should have been obvious to anybody that the human rights zealots would continue to expand their powers in the most undemocratic and offensive ways possible.
While the Levant case involves the Alberta commission - where Levant was recently grilled by a commission commissar for the apparent crime of holding political views which the commission and a complainant to it object to - it was Ontario under Davis - and particularly under two of his senior ministers, recently-retired Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry and lawyer-surgeoncabinet minister Bob Elgie - who set the tone for commissions to run roughshod over centuries of due process and legal objectivity.
And there was Borovoy cheering them on. So it's a bit late now, given the harm his action set in motion, to lament the fact that the commissions are out of control and to pretend that it's only because of some "ambiguities" in the law. Ontario led the way with human rights legislation when in 1944, four years before the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it passed the Ontario Racial Discrimination Act.
Things moved along relatively well until Davis, to the chagrin of many in his own cabinet and caucus, tabbed Elgie to rewrite the human rights code, the result of which was a proposal to given human rights officers more power than the police to search for and seize private documents without a warrant and based solely on a complaint, whether frivolous or not. There was so much opposition from Davis's own party to the June, 1980 proposals, that the premier - typically - decided not to fight an election on his police state bill. But after regaining a huge majority in 1981, Davis pushed the new law through the legislature, a law which has served as the prototype for all the other provinces and has led to the sorry situation where Levant - and Maclean's magazine writer Mark Steyn - are being forced to defend their opinions simply because there are some readers who were offended by them. It is sickening for Borovoy now to lament this state of affairs. This is the same Borovoy who, during an instructive two-week period in 1981, appeared at both the federal investigation into RCMP wrongdoing in Quebec and the hearings into Elgie's infamous Bill 7.
In Ottawa, Borovoy argued passionately that the police should not have the power to search and seize without a warrant. At Queen's Park, he argued just as passionately that human rights officers had to have the powers or search and seizure without a warrant.
At the end of the day, some of Elgie's proposals - although not many of them - were modified slightly, but the result still was an overwhelming, totally biased bureaucratic juggernaut which, although supposedly set up only to deal with discrimination in housing and employment, has continued to expand its power and influence into every facet of our lives.
It's time to blow them up and start again. And it just shows what happens when a politician - in this case Davis and his crew - is more interested in catering to mouthy militants than in dealing in a reasonable way with the vast majority of people who, despite what the zealots may claim, are decent, law-abiding Canadians.