Eleven years after the Supreme Court of Canada "read in" protections for gays and lesbians into Alberta's human rights law, the government of Alberta is finally proposing to make those protections explicit in the letter of the law.
You may recall the case of Delwin Vriend who was fired from his job at a Christian college in Alberta in the 1990s. Vriend was unable to seek justice for this discrimination because, at the time, the Alberta government had refused to provide anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community. Vriend took the case all the way to Canada's Supreme Court where, in 1998, the court ruled that Alberta had erred in not providing such protections based on 'sexual orientation.' The court "read in" those protections, even though the wording of the legislation remained the same.
Now Alberta's Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett says he wants to include sexual orientation in Alberta’s human-rights law, possibly as early as this spring. It's nice that Alberta is finally joining the modern era, at least by Canadian standards (by world standards, Alberta is practically "progressive.")
Of course, as the Man giveth, he also taketh away. While providing explicit protections for gays and lesbians in Alberta's human rights law (largely a symbolic move), the province also plans to strip Alberta's Human Rights Commission of its ability to fight hate propaganda. There is nothing symbolic about this latter move: it's a direct assault on the rights of Alberta's citizens to live free from fear of the promotion of violence and hate-based attack.
This move is likely in reaction to the recent cases involving Ezra Levant and others. While those "free speech" advocates have been largely successful in arguing that much can be improved in terms of due process with regard to human rights commissions, they haven't convinced many, myself included, that the answer is to strip citizens of all right to pursue hate speech complaints. It's like using a sledgehammer to solve a problem that a fly swatter could fix.
Many conservatives have pointed to the case of Stephen Boissoin as an example of the Alberta Human Rights Commission going too far. Of course, many have played down the visceral hatred that Boissoin promoted in his 2002 letters to the Red Deer Advocate in which, using war-like language, he basically compared gay activists to dangerous vermin against whom any action readers deemed necessary should be taken to save children. The Calgary Herald recently described Boissoin's arguments simply as "a series of pro-traditional marriage-values letters." So the Calgary Herald seems to believe that in order to argue in favour of traditional marriage, you have to demand possible violence against all gays and lesbians? That's scary.
The problem here isn't that the "free speechers" want to clean up how human rights commissions work; they reallly want to shut them down altogether.
Individual citizens should have protections against hate propaganda and should be able to initiate complaints on their own, not have to rely on police and Attorneys-General to do so. I'm all for due and fair process, but I'm definitely against letting our guard down in the fight against real hatred.
No one should have the right to live free from "feeling offended," as the "free speechers" have erroneously argued is our goal. What we want and need is to be able to live in a society in which hate mongers are punished when they advocate genocide or promote violence against any group.