Blackett indicated that one of the priorities for the new commissioner is to work toward writing sexual orientation protection into Alberta human-rights legislation.
"But that's something that's up to caucus - we would need to vote on that together. It’s probably not prudent for me to comment on what I would do personally, because it’s not up to me," said the minister in a Calgary Sun report.
Hmmm...gee you think ten years after the Vriend case was resolved in courts, that just maybe it's time for the Alberta government to drag its legislative arse into the twentieth century?
The other point here is that the Commissioner cannot change the legislation either - that has to happen in the Legislature. I think it's a very sad statement that Blackett's comments restrict that discussion to the Cabinet table.
Janet Keeping, president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation, said, "The Alberta HRC seems to have taken a real nosedive, starting in the '90s," and suffers from "low profile and poor reputation." She recommended in the report that, apart from making the commission "more user friendly and offering legal assistance to both defendant and complainant," the government should repeal Section 3 of Alberta's Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act which deals with "statements or publications likely to expose people to hatred or contempt" in order to better protect freedom of speech.
Uh huh. Of course, if you go and read the actual report from the Sheldon Chumir Foundation, you will find something a little different:
First, section 3 – which makes it possible to file complaints on the basis of statements or publications which may “expose” people to “hatred or contempt” – presents an unacceptable limitation on free expression. This section must be amended as soon as possible. We recommend that it be amended so as to read as
it did prior to amendments made in 1996 which unwisely expanded the scope of the section.
That's quite a different thing from repealing the section, which is what Lifesite's writers are claiming.
Personally, I think that stepping back to the 1996 wording would be quite problematic in today's world. In 1996, digital media was still very much being born, and really we are only just learning today how easily it can be used by some for less than desirable purposes, such as spreading lies, slander and hatred of entire populations - often on the basis of ignorance, rather than informed thought.
More realistically, while right-wingnuttia have been focusing on that one comment in the Chumir Foundation's report, the report itself is in many respects an outright condemnation of the Ralph Klein Tories' approach to human rights in Alberta.
Regarding the need for leadership on protection of human rights in Alberta:
• Alberta is a vibrant, forward-looking province, which is leading the country in many ways. But not everyone living in Alberta has a fair chance at achieving the good life the province has to offer. Discrimination prevents many people from living with full dignity and from getting ahead in very tangible ways.
• Discrimination harms all of us. Therefore, all Albertans will benefit if strong leadership is shown by the provincial government on combating discrimination.
• In the past, Alberta has been a leader in the legal protection of human rights, but this position of leadership has been lost.
• Alberta could lead again in the struggle against discrimination, if the issues facing our human rights protection system are addressed with the seriousness and determination they deserve.
Regarding the stature and structure of the Human Rights and Citizenship Commission:
• The current Commission suffers from low profile and poor reputation, both of which have resulted from years of little support from the provincial government. This lack of political support must be reversed.
• Albertans need a Human Rights Commission which speaks with a strong voice in support of human rights and sets a high moral standard on protection of human rights in the province. The Commission should carry out much more education on Albertans’ rights and responsibilities under our human rights legislation. It should also engage directly with the public when issues of societal significance arise, such as eruptions of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or homophobia.
• To overcome the perception of a weak and politically dependent Commission, the provincial government must create an independent Commission in which the public can have full confidence. To this end, the Human Rights Commissioners should be empowered to function as a Board of Directors for the Commission, setting its overall tone, priorities, and approaches. The people appointed to the Commission should be well-known Albertans with significant experience on human rights issues.
• The Commission must also be made to operate in a transparent fashion so that Albertans can have full confidence in it.
• To enhance the stature of the Commission and its independence, the Alberta Human Rights Commission should report through the Chief Commissioner directly to the Alberta Legislative Assembly, as does, for example, the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner. If such a change is not acceptable to the current government, then the Commission should report to the Minister of Justice.
• Another way to enhance the stature of the Human Rights and Citizenship Commission is to remove the confusion surrounding its name and the name of the statute which governs its activities. The word “multiculturalism” should be dropped from the name of the statute and the word “citizenship” should be deleted from the name of the Commission and from the name of the statute. So, the Commission would be called the “Alberta Human Rights Commission” and the statute the “Alberta Human Rights Act.”
The credibility of the complaints adjudication process must be enhanced:
• As originally created, human rights commissions in Canada have had mandates both to promote protection of human rights and to provide a forum for the adjudication of discrimination complaints. But this two-fold jurisdiction is inherently conflicted. The two functions should be separated in order to ensure the fairness and credibility of the adjudication process. We recommend the creation of a fully independent tribunal for the hearing and decision of human rights complaints.
In order that Albertans be better served by the Commission:
• The Human Rights Commission must become more user-friendly. In particular, Albertans must have better access to the Commission. For example, the Commission must have a meaningful presence throughout the province, not just in
the major cities – Calgary and Edmonton.
This is not, as wingnut pundits like Levant like to proclaim "an organization out of control" - it is a picture of an organization that has been so starved for resources that it simply cannot do its job effectively at all.
Offhand, what I've read of the Chumir Foundation's report is pretty well balanced and makes some interesting points that our legislators should pay attention to. Whether Stelmach can bury enough of his Kleinosaur DNA to do the right thing remains to be seen.