“Needless to say, not all religions can rely on Human Rights Commissions to suppress criticism they find hurtful. In 2005, a 70-year-old Christian marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan, Orville Nichols, declined to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. Nichols later stated that he has no objection to same-sex marriage, but because of his personal religious beliefs, he could not officiate. In fact, he referred the couple to another marriage commissioner who married them. When all civil marriage commissioners were instructed that they must perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, Nichols filed a complaint with the provincial HRC, arguing that his right to practice his religion was being violated — the case was dismissed. The complaint filed by the couple in question against Nichols was accepted, and the commission’s disposition of their suit is still pending.
“Even when the principles at stake are less lofty than freedom of the press or freedom of worship, Human Rights Commissions are used to expand the state and to inconvenience ordinary Canadians in pernicious ways. Canada’s Wonderland, a Toronto theme park, was forced to pay damages to a Sikh man who was asked to wear a safety helmet on a go-kart ride, as required by government regulations. Since this required that he remove his turban, the man filed a complaint with the Ontario HRC, which agreed that he had suffered religious discrimination.
“All of these complaints represent an attempt to circumvent the courts and the legislature, and to impose obligations and restrictions on other Canadians that these legitimate bodies will not. Publishing controversial articles and adhering to one’s religion can now lead to time-consuming, stressful, and expensive dealings with Human Rights Commissions. So, apparently, can enforcing safety regulations, or failing to police the lunch bags of schoolchildren.
“These commissions are fundamentally undemocratic, and unjust, since HRCs do not answer to voters, courts, or the government. They impose a high cost on those who must defend themselves against a complaint, while attaching no cost to bringing a nuisance suit. More broadly, they promote a culture of victim-hood and identity politics.
“If ever there were a time to shut these commissions down, it would be now, with a Conservative government in power and increasing awareness among the Canadian public of the insidious nature of such extra-judicial bodies. The complaint against Maclean’s and Mark Steyn could be the catalyst for such a change. If it isn’t, and if the BC Human Rights Commission allows itself to be used to stifle discussion, the future of political and religious freedom in Canada looks increasingly grim.”