OTTAWA - A new lobby group says it wants to warn Canadians that their fundamental freedoms – such as freedom of expression, belief, thought and religion - are being threatened by the groups sworn to uphold them.
The campaign, from a group called Stand Up For Freedom Canada, claims human rights commissions and tribunals at the federal and provincial level are a threat to Charter-protected rights for all Canadians.
“We have fundamental freedoms recognized by the state - not granted but recognized,” Neil Dykstra, founder of the group told QMI Agency in an interview.
“What these human rights commissions and tribunals are doing is inventing rights, and all too often the fundamental freedom loses out.”
Dykstra points to the case of Stephen Boissoin, a former Alberta pastor who wrote a letter to the editor which was deemed hateful to homosexuals. The Alberta Human Rights Commission fined Boissoin $5,000 and then ordered him never to make disparaging remarks against gays and lesbians again.
That decision was overturned by the courts and Boissoin even had the support of EGALE, a gay and lesbian lobby group that disagreed with the content of the letter but supported the pastor’s right to free expression. The legal ordeal isn’t over, however, with the court’s decision now being appealed.
Dykstra details this case and others he views as problematic on the group's website humanrightscommissions.ca.
Canada’s human rights bodies came under attack two years ago after a pair of high profile cases captured national attention.
Columnist Mark Steyn’s writings were examined by commissions in Ontario, British Columbia and by
the national body in Ottawa, while Sun Media’s Ezra Levant, then-publisher of the Western Standard Magazine, was brought before the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Both cases involved articles deemed hateful to Islam.
Levant’s case was dropped after 900 days of investigation and interrogation. Steyn and Macleans magazine had to argue their case before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, which they eventually won.
Both Liberal and Conservative MPs have moved to have certain powers taken away from the federal human rights commission.
The Tories have even voted to strip out what is called section 13.1, which allows the commission to prosecute what it considers hate speech on the internet.
It’s a move Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to make.
“I think some of the most egregious cases, if you actually look at this, are in provincial human rights commissions, and obviously you know I can't control or comment on that,” Harper said in 2008 when asked about reforming the system.
That’s a position Dykstra doesn’t agree with.
“The mechanism still exists for questionable decisions to be made,” Dykstra said.
The high profile cases like Steyn and Levant may have faded away but Dykstra says that doesn’t mean the same thing isn’t happening to less obvious victims.
Dykstra and his fellow lobbyists in B.C. and Ontario hope to get enough Canadians concerned with the activities of the commissions and tribunals that they will be reformed, but his ultimate goal is to do away with the quasi-judicial bodies and leave human rights decisions in the hands of the courts.