How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights

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This article was published 16/5/2009 (4514 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ezra Levant talks to reporters on the day his magazine published cartoons of Muhammad.


Ezra Levant talks to reporters on the day his magazine published cartoons of Muhammad.

How Our Government Is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights

By Ezra Levant

McClelland & Stewart, 216 pages, $29


In 1776, radical British-American writer Thomas Paine published his pamphlet Common Sense, which defended inalienable rights against arbitrary authority.

Calgary lawyer and journalist Ezra Levant has become a Canadian version of Thomas Paine.

Levant's short new book examines human rights commissions in Canada, which, he argues, have strayed from their original mandate and now pose a threat to traditional Canadian liberties.

This vigorous polemic grows out of Levant's personal experience with how these government agencies operate. As publisher of the now defunct Western Standard magazine, he had reprinted the controversial Danish cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

As a result, a complaint was filed against Levant; he was charged with discrimination and made to appear before the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission.

He not only details his own imbroglio with the Alberta human rights bureaucracy, but looks at other cases from across Canada.

It is a concise, well-written account; Levant has a gift for explaining legal issues in clear, simple prose.

And he never loses his sense of humour, something that distinguishes him from his opponents.

When they were created in the 1960s, Levant argues, Canada's human rights commissions had a legitimate social function.

They provided an accessible means of redress for individuals, usually from minority groups, who were being treated unjustly.

Discrimination has abated in recent decades, providing less work for the commissions. But that doesn't mean that these institutions have correspondingly withdrawn from the public arena, content with a job well done.

On the contrary, they have expanded their scope, embracing and pursuing frivolous complaints that have little relation to genuine human rights.

Moreover, Levant maintains, they have increasingly targeted Canadians merely for being politically incorrect, exerting a chilling influence on speech rights.

But the tide may have turned. Recent high-profile cases involving mainstream media -- not only the Western Standard but also Maclean's and the Halifax Chronicle-Herald -- have focused the attention of the public and politicians on the commissions.

Canada's human rights bodies did good work in the past, and, with appropriate reforms, perhaps they can make a valuable contribution to Canadian life in the future (although Levant would prefer to see them abolished entirely).

Levant's book, despite its brevity, raises profound issues about the nature of a free society and individual responsibility.

He appeals to Canadians' common sense and fairness. Hopefully these are qualities that still inhere in the Canadian public.


Graeme Voyer is a Winnipeg writer.