© 2007  Karen Selick

An edited version of this article first appeared in the October 25, 2007 issue of the National Post.
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Repeal Our Phony Human Rights Laws

It’s funny—when Canadians use the phrase “human rights” in connection with countries like China or Iran, we’re usually referring to such things as the right not to be killed by one’s own government for political or religious reasons, or the right to speak freely at demonstrations or in the press.

But if you look at Canada’s own human rights laws—for instance, Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code or Alberta’s Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act—there’s not a word in them prohibiting governments from killing citizens or quashing demonstrations.  Canadians are already protected from murder by the Criminal Code, and we’re guaranteed freedom of expression by the constitution. 

So what exactly do Canada’s human rights laws do?  Well, when it comes to free speech, they do exactly the opposite of what we expect human rights laws to accomplish in foreign countries:  they restrict speech, instead of enabling it.  They tell Canadians what we cannot say—namely: anything that might, just possibly, offend someone belonging to a minority group.  In most cases, they then go on, hypocritically, to deem themselves not to be restricting free speech. 

To make things worse, the human rights laws also violate other important traditional Canadian rights: freedom of contract, and private property rights. 

If there were one single thing I could do to fix Canada, it would be to repeal these unnecessary, destructive, deceitful laws.

Although the human rights laws purport to protect vulnerable minority groups against bigotry and discrimination, the truth is—they don’t.  They’re phonies. Examined closely, these laws don’t outlaw racism, sexism, homophobia, etc., universally.  They ban such prejudices only when held by a few categories of individuals—people that our legislators presume to be economically powerful. 

Merchants, service providers, landlords and employers are the targets of the human rights laws. They are forbidden from discriminating against consumers, tenants, and employees—even if they themselves belong to minorities.  But there is no flip-side.  Consumers, tenants, and employees can freely discriminate on the basis of whatever prejudices they might hold.  Their actions aren’t governed by the human rights codes.

So, for example, a convenience store owner could not deny entry to his store on the basis of a customer’s race or ethnic origins, even if he had been held up at gunpoint a dozen times by members of a particular racial or ethnic gang.  Gang members, however, are free to boycott a convenience store if they happen to dislike the proprietor’s race, colour, accent, etc. The human rights codes do not force people to buy a fair share of their pop and cigarettes from stores owned by Asians, blacks, Jews, WASPS, francophones, gays, etc. 

Here’s another example. An Ontario chiropractor was ordered to revamp his office building (cost: over $20,000) because having non-wheelchair-accessible premises discriminated against a disabled would-be patient.  Although the chiropractor proved—by offering to make a house call—that he did not discriminate against wheelchair-bound patients, the complainant wasn’t satisfied.  (Imagine someone rejecting a house call in favour of complaining to the Human Rights Commission!)   The human rights tribunal made the chiropractor rip up his parking lot and building, and spend $20,000—thereby violating his property rights.  They imposed non-consensual terms on his contractual relationship with this patient, thereby violating his freedom of contract.  The disabled woman, on the other hand, was under no obligation to actually purchase treatment from that chiropractor after he renovated his office to her specifications.  And she was equally free, as her fingers tripped through the Yellow Pages, to reject names that didn’t appeal to any ethnic or other biases she might harbour.

No, these laws are not about banning bigotry.  They’re about transferring rights and power from the categories of people the legislators deemed over-endowed to those the legislators deemed under-endowed. They’re really a form of wealth redistribution—a form of back-door socialism that doesn’t make people as angry as taxes because it masquerades under a mantel of righteousness. 

I’ll take my chances in the unregulated marketplace any day. If someone wants to insult me, or doesn’t want to deal with me, because of my ethnic origins, my sex, or anything else, my attitude is:  let him. My ego is not so fragile that uncouth behaviour on the part of an obvious bigot will shatter my self-esteem. His incivility doesn’t make me think less of myself—it only makes me think less of him. And frankly, I don’t mind knowing who these jackasses are, because I’d like to boycott them even more than they want to exclude me.


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       December 16, 2007