The Chair (Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, CPC)):
I call the meeting to order.
This is the 26th meeting of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Today we are starting a study of human rights commissions. We have two sets of witnesses before us today. First, we have David Langtry, deputy chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. He is accompanied by Sébastien Sigouin, who is director of the policy and international relations division, and Monette Maillet, who is director and senior counsel of the legal advisory services at the Human Rights Commission. They will be followed by Alan Borovoy, from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
I just want to alert members from all parties to the obvious time constraints it puts on us within a window of one and a half hours. I'm going to have to be pretty ruthless in keeping our questions and responses short in order to allow both sets of witnesses to be heard from fully. What I propose is that we have a single round of questions, rather than the normal two rounds after each set of witnesses. Even so, it's going to be tight, and I ask for everybody's cooperation.
That being said, I welcome our witnesses.
I would ask, Mr. Langtry, that you please feel free to start. Thank you.
Mr. David Langtry (Deputy Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good afternoon. I thank the subcommittee for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to participate in your discussion of policies and practices of human rights commissions internationally and in Canada.
I am David Langtry and I am Deputy Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, or CHRC. With me today are Monette Maillet, Senior Counsel and Director of Legal Advisory Services, and Sébastien Sigouin, Director of Policy and International Relations.
We welcome this opportunity to provide you with an overview of the role and mandate of the commission and to describe our practices and work both domestically and internationally.
Perhaps the best way for me to explain the role and mandate of the commission is to read an excerpt from section 2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act: “The purpose of this Act is to extend the laws in Canada to give effect...to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have”--without discrimination. This sets out the mandate our commission pursues in all our work in helping to create a Canada with dignity, respect, and equality for all.
The commission itself consists of two full-time members, me and Chief Commissioner Jennifer Lynch, and four part-time members, together with 190 staff. An important aspect of our work is dealing with complaints of discrimination. Most complaints are in the employment context, and about one-third are about discrimination based on disability.
Experience has shown that often the best way to resolve human rights disputes, most of which occur at the local level, on the shop floor or in an office, is to bring the parties together to work out their differences. That is why the CHRC provides a robust system of alternative dispute resolution. ADR is offered at every stage of the process, and it is often successful.
Of course, not all complaints can be resolved in this way. The remaining cases go through the statutory process of investigation and a decision by the commission. About 86% of the time complaints are resolved or closed at the commission. The balance of complaints are referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which is a completely independent hearing body, apart from us.
While perhaps best known as a complaints-screening body, the commission fulfills another extremely important function--that is, serving as a catalyst for advances in human rights. We perform an education and outreach function. We work with employers to help them integrate human rights into daily practice and prevent discrimination before it happens. We develop research, policies, and tools, and give advice to Parliament.
In the 30-plus years since its creation, the commission has contributed to making positive changes in Canadian society. Many of you will know of some of the precedent-setting cases that have made a huge difference for communities seeking equality: VIA Rail, which provided accessibility for persons with disabilities who travel on trains; Sangha, which confirmed that discrimination on the basis of over-qualification can be discrimination on the basis of race; Vaid, which confirmed that human rights law applies to the House of Commons; and Multani, which clarified the interplay between human rights and security.
As society and the law evolve, new human rights issues constantly arise and the CHRC contributes to resolving them.
Our act has been amended on several occasions to meet the changing needs of society, such as including sexual orientation as a ground of discrimination, and establishing the responsibility of employers to accommodate, to the point of undue hardship, the special needs of employees resulting from, for example, their religious requirements or disability.
A highlight of 2008 was the repeal of section 67 of the act, the section that excluded matters falling under the Indian Act. The passage of Bill C-21 was a milestone in the development of human rights law in Canada, and the commission applauds the cooperation shown by parliamentarians in working to reach a consensus on the legislation, which finally gives first nations peoples access to the same level of fundamental human rights protection that most Canadians take for granted.
Repeal of this section was just a first step. The commission is now working in close collaboration with first nations organizations to build a human rights system that reflects and respects aboriginal peoples' cultures and traditional laws.
An issue of particular and recent controversy regards section 13 of the act, which deals with hate messages. In response to concerns about section 13, the commission undertook a comprehensive policy review. The results of the review are detailed in the special report to Parliament that was tabled in both Houses last Thursday. As you know, your colleagues on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights have agreed to conduct a study on section 13. We welcome and look forward to having that informed debate.
I would now like to tell you about the international aspect of our work and some recent developments on that front.
In the early 1990s the CHRC chaired an international initiative that led to the adoption in 1993 by the United Nations General Assembly of a set of standards for national human rights institutions. These standards came to be known as the Paris Principles. The Paris Principles serve as the internationally recognized benchmarks to assess the composition, mandate, and performance of a national human rights institution. Since their adoption, the Paris Principles have provided guidance to governments from around the world in establishing national human rights institutions that are independent and pluralistic.
An independent, rigorous, and transparent accreditation process gives substance and credibility to human rights institutions. There are 88 national human rights institutions worldwide that are now accredited in accordance with the Paris Principles, and 65 of these have the highest status, A status, including the Canadian Human Rights Commission. All of these institutions are members of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, or the ICC.
In 2007 the CHRC was elected as chair of the ICC for a three-year term. Under our leadership, the ICC has matured significantly as an organization. The ICC is working to provide a role for national institutions in corporate responsibility and has been very effective in promoting the role of national human rights institutions at the United Nations.
At the regional level, the CHRC has played a leading role in the development of the Network of National Human Rights Institutions of the Americas. This network has provided its members with a wide range of capacity-building and information-sharing services, ranging from the role of NHRIs in promoting and protecting the rights of indigenous peoples or the rights of persons with disabilities to human rights and security measures through to education and to prevention of torture. More recently the CHRC has effectively promoted a role for NHRIs at the Organization of American States that is similar to the one they have at the UN.
A reflection of the commission's international work at home has been its participation in the universal periodic review of Canada. It made a submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council to contribute to the first part of the review, which took place in February 2009, and intervened before the council at the conclusion of the review in June.
With this I conclude my remarks. We welcome the opportunity to answer your questions.
Mr. Mario Silva (Davenport, Lib.):
We were just trying to figure out who the chair was, because Jennifer Lynch couldn't make it today to the meeting, which is unfortunate. First of all, congratulations on your chairmanship. I think that's great. It's good for Canada as well.
I want to ask two questions in relation to the international scene. One is that we've just had the universal periodic review for Canada. I wanted to know whether you can comment on that and on whether there's a role as well for the commission to play in some of the possible implementation of the periodic review recommendations that came forward.
Number two is the fact that you also mentioned the Organization of American States. Now, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is very well known, and very prominent individuals have raised some serious issues of human rights. They also did a credible amount of good work on reports. I think of the report on forced disappearances, for example. I'm wondering whether the commission as well does work similar to that of the Organization of American States and the human rights reports that they do, and whether that is distributed. Their reports are very well distributed, and it's very well respected internationally.
Can you comment on those two issues, please?
Mr. David Langtry:
Yes. Thank you.
I'll deal first with the UPR, and then I would ask to Mr. Sigouin to answer in terms of the Organization of American States, since he is the one who has been doing most of the work with the OAS.
Regarding the UPR process, indeed the Canadian Human Rights Commission welcomed that process, and as chairs of the ICC, we did conduct regional workshops internationally to assist national human rights institutions to participate in that process.
We welcome the opportunity and the fact that all member states would be under the review. As you know, Canada certainly had supported that process. We did provide a submission in February, as I had mentioned the five-page submission. This was not solely by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, but we consulted as well with all of the provinces through the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies. So we engaged with all ten provinces and three territories, as well as with 60 NGOs, in developing our submission. We did that through Rights and Democracy. So we made the submission. As I mentioned, of course, we attended and intervened last week.
We think it is a good process, and certainly I believe our experience is that it opened the door to greater dialogue and engagement with civil society and the government as far as our role in terms of any follow-up work. Yes, we certainly have offered to be part and parcel should we be given the mandate by Parliament to do any kind of follow-up or reporting work that may be in terms of any of Canada's obligations and response to recommendations.
On the OAS, I'll ask Sébastien to respond.
Mr. Sébastien Sigouin (Director, Policy and International Relations Division, Canadian Human Rights Commission):
Thank you very much, Mr. Silva, for your question.
With regard to the Inter-American Commission, you are correct that it's an institution with lots of credibility. In fact, we are hosting next week a delegation of two senior officials from the Inter-American Commission, who are coming to the Canadian commission for three days to learn of our own experience and complaints process learned from our expertise. This is part of a project funded by CIDA.
As you know, the strengthening of the inter-American human rights system is a priority for the Government of Canada. As part of that process, it was felt that the Canadian commission could contribute to this process to the inter-American system by sharing its expertise with the Inter-American Commission.
We are, of course, a different kind of entity from the Inter-American Commission, but we do provide reports on the human rights situation in Canada. Mr. Langtry mentioned the UPR, the universal periodic review. We also provide independent reports through what is called at the UN the treaty reporting process, which is that Canada, as a member of this or that human rights treaty, has to provide periodic reports. As part of that process, we also provide reports to the UN on the specific issue, whether it's discrimination against women or any racial discrimination or any other human rights issue that Canada has adhered to through a treaty.
Mr. David Langtry:
Yes, thank you for that question.
The A status is, as I mentioned, the highest status. There are 88 of those. We also have B status at the ICC, which are near to being Paris Principles-compliant but don't fully meet each of the requirements in the Paris Principles. They're accorded a B status, which means that they do not have standing at the Human Rights Council. All A-status national human rights institutions have full status to appear and speak to every agenda item at the Human Rights Council. We also have some with C status, and they're basically not Paris Principles-compliant at all.
So an application for accreditation is made by a national institution and it is then referred to the subcommittee on accreditation, which is a subcommittee of the ICC. It considers the application, it is reviewed by the national institutions unit of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, and an analysis is done. Each applicant has to provide material to substantiate its annual reports, its budget, a description of its activities. Field officers of the UN will also provide information and input. The subcommittee on accreditation meets twice a year to consider the applications and reach a decision, a recommendation that is given to the ICC to either accept or reject the recommendations.
The subcommittee consists of one representative of each of the four regions that ICC is broken down into--the Americas, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Europe. Canada is one of the four members of the subcommittee on accreditation.
Mr. David Langtry:
That's an interesting question. I would have to say that certainly in our submission on the UPR we had highlighted aspects of social equality and social condition, but we had also particularly focused, if I might say, on aboriginal issues. We made specific reference.
By the way, we will be more than pleased to provide you with a copy of our submission.
We noted with regret that Canada had not concurred with or signed onto the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As well, we had noted our work in terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.
The aboriginal one is a particular issue for us. I can say that from the Canadian Human Rights Commission the number one priority stated within our commission is our work on the implementation of the repeal of section 67. We've established a national aboriginal office in Winnipeg that is specifically geared towards the implementation of the repeal of section 67.
As you may of course be aware, the transition period for the full implementation of Bill C-21, the act to repeal section 67, is a three-year period. It was June of last year when it passed. There are two more years before it has full application to aboriginal authorities, but it does have immediate effect as against the Government of Canada, so we are receiving complaints, and obviously there may be a significant volume of cases coming in the next two years. That is why it has really been a focus of our activity.
Mr. David Langtry:
Thank you. Certainly it has been the position of the commission.
As you know, we did table a special report to Parliament last Thursday, which we're pleased to provide to you as well. It really talked about the balancing, in saying that in virtually all jurisdictions there is a balance. While there is the fundamental right of freedom of expression, that does not trump other fundamental rights. In other words, they are all put on an equal footing. The courts, in interpreting that, have often talked about the need to balance, and when there are competing rights, to ensure that this is there.
As you may be aware, we had engaged Professor Moon to do a study on section 13 as well. Certainly in our special report to Parliament we have recommended that Professor Moon's report as well be given full consideration. On balance, after consideration of Professor Moon's recommendation and our broad consultations with those who wanted to make submissions and our own consideration of it, and having regard for the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Taylor and Keegstra, as an example in 1990, as well as Parliament's amendment of our act in 2001 as part of the Anti-terrorism Act to specifically include hate on the Internet as being part of our mandate, our report for consideration by Parliament recommends that both regimes be maintained, with some modifications, to clarify the definition of “hate”. It has always been our commission's view that it is only in the extreme cases that the matter should proceed further, and hence a decision in the Maclean's case. As you know, our commission dismissed that complaint, did not send it to tribunal. In fact, there have only been in our existence 17 cases that have been heard by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, out of any of those that came before us.
So what we're saying is that we have been adopting the Taylor test in our analysis at the commission level and only sending on those more extreme cases. We have also recommended, to clear any uncertainty, that Parliament amend our act to make it very clear that it's only those very narrow and most extreme cases that should be within our jurisdiction. Therefore, we would also be able to more clearly dismiss those cases that come before us that don't meet that threshold under section 41 of our act, which allows us to fairly quickly make a decision that it's beyond the jurisdiction of the commission, rather than having to go through a full investigation.
Mr. David Langtry:
I can't give you the origin of its existence, but certainly obviously from our perspective it came from Parliament in terms of our mandate to deal with hate on the Internet. Section 13 is a creature of statute, as you know, and it came from the mandate of Parliament.
In terms of the balancing and the limit, that was, as you know as well, considered head-on in light of the charter by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Taylor case in 1990. The decision of the Supreme Court at that time--they released both the Taylor and the Keegstra decisions on the same day--upheld the constitutionality of both section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada. So it is based on that.
And then again, as I had referenced, the 2001 amendment to our act, again by Parliament, as part of the Anti-terrorism Act expressly states that it does cover hate on the Internet, which the tribunal had already determined was the case.
So we take the mandate from Parliament, and we take the balancing, if you will, and the restriction on freedom of expression from the court cases. These are not decisions that are taken by the commission. We are subject to Parliament and the mandate that you, as parliamentarians, give to us or take away.
Mr. A. Borovoy (General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. The problem is exacerbated in my case because I tend to speak slowly.
I think that in view of the polemics that have preceded these hearings, it would be appropriate for me to begin by indicating areas of agreement that my organization has with the defenders of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. I can state these agreements in three points.
First, we agree that freedom of speech is not and cannot be absolute. Second, as far as a hierarchy of freedoms is concerned, there is no necessary priority that one freedom has over another in the abstract. The priorities are intelligently worked out in concrete situations, not as a matter of abstract principle. Third, we agree that the bulk of our human rights legislation ought to remain and that the agencies created to enforce it should be encouraged to continue doing so, because most of it is very helpful and very important.
Those are the areas of agreement. I turn now to the areas of disagreement.
While freedom of speech may not be absolute, it is nevertheless the lifeblood of the democratic system. It's the vehicle that enables any of us to mobilize, or attempt to mobilize, public support for the redress of our various grievances. My favourite philosopher once described it as a strategic freedom, a freedom on which other freedoms depend.
There are basically two problems with the anti-hate provisions of the human rights legislation. The first is that it's too vague, and the second is that it's too wide.
When it talks about exposing people to hatred or contempt, I submit that with all the definitions in the world, the problem is that it still remains vague. We know that freedom of speech is often most important when it expresses strong disagreement, but where does strong disagreement leave off and hatred begin? If, as Professor Moon recommended, they had talked about using violence as the focus, there probably wouldn't be the difficulty that there is, but hatred is a necessarily vague term.
Then, of course, we have the breadth, the width. It targets statements “likely to expose” people on various grounds, various consituencies, to hatred or contempt. It says “likely to expose”. There's no requirement that there be an intent to foment hatred, and there's no defence for truth or reasonable belief in the truth.
I want to refer to a recent controversy, because I think there has been a certain amount of facile discussion about it. I'm talking about the complaint that had been filed against Maclean's magazine over the article written by Mark Steyn. It has been said that, “Oh, well, that didn't rise or sink to the level of hatred”, as though it was perfectly obvious that it didn't. I submit that it's anything but obvious that Mr. Steyn's article did not rise or sink to the level of hatred.
I'm going to take one sentence from his piece. He said: “Of course not all Muslims are terrorists--though enough are hot for jihad to provide an impressive support network...”. What does that statement effectively say? That a significant number of Muslims “support”--support what: terrorism, including the kidnapping, torture, and beheading of innocent people? What worse can you say about people these days than that they support activity like that? I think it's anything but clear that a subsequent panel from the Human Rights Commission, or indeed the tribunal if they ever get to deal with it, is going to reach the same conclusion as the last one did.
We did a little research in our office about recent controversial issues, and I just want to read you a couple of extracts; they're quite short. An article written in The New Republic magazine, a respectable American publication, on the conflict in Kosovo said:
||The conventional thinking...is that we have no quarrel with the Serbian people. It's their leader, Slobodan Milosevic, and his henchmen who manipulated them into waging so many brutal wars. ... But what if it isn't true? What if the Serbs...actually support ethnic cleansing...? In that case, we do have a quarrel with the Serbian people. ...
||I myself used to believe that ordinary Serbs have been deceived and bullied into accepting atrocities done in their name. But now, after five years...trying in vain to elicit expressions of remorse from the hundreds of Serbs I have met, I am convinced that the latter assessment is the accurate one. Whatever else we do in Kosovo, we must face the fact that, for all intents and purposes, many ordinary Serbs are--to paraphrase Daniel Jonah Goldhagen--Milosevic's willing executioners.
Is that not likely to expose all kinds of Serbian people to hatred or contempt?
We have Daniel Goldhagen's book, and here's what he says about the state of mind of the German people at the time of the Holocaust:
||...the perpetrators, “ordinary Germans”, were animated by antisemitism, by a particular type of antisemitism that led them to conclude that the Jews ought to die. ... Simply put, the perpetrators, having consulted their own convictions...and having judged the mass annihilation of Jews to be right, did not want to say “no”.
Is that not likely to expose a whole generation of Germans to hatred or contempt?
I know that Daniel Goldhagen is a controversial historian, but no one questions his historical credentials. There has been literature that has attempted to document the collaboration, the cooperation the Nazis received from the indigenous populations in some of the countries they occupied. This leads to a very interesting question: To what extent could section 13 make it an offence to tell the truth about the Holocaust? This is a problem we see with this legislation.
As a result, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has taken the position that Richard Moon was very much on the right track when he suggested the focus should not be on expressions of hatred, but on the prevention of violence. We may have some quarrels with some of the details, but the direction of the Moon report, in our view, is the correct one.
All of which, Mr. Chair, is, as always, respectfully submitted.
Mr. Jean Dorion:
I am talking about negationism. Is that okay?
Basically, there are two opposing theories in this kind of debate. There are those who defend freedom of expression, those who say that you cannot impose an official historical truth. Then, there are those who take the side of the victim.
For example, suppose I am attacked, beaten or raped by thugs. I go to court and have them convicted. Then, the thugs or their friends start saying that I made it all up, that what happened to me never happened. When they do that, they increase my pain and suffering a lot. The first thing that someone who has suffered so much pain or such a great injustice needs, after all, is the recognition that he has been wronged.
This is the debate between those who say that you cannot impose an official historical truth—people have the right to believe the version of history that they want to believe—and those who take the side of the victims.
What is your position? How do you see that question yourself?
Mr. Wayne Marston:
Thank you, Chair.
I certainly appreciate having this witness before us today.
I would suggest, sir, that when you referred to the Canadians who stand up to intolerance, or stand up to hatred, you could practically include everybody in this room in one fashion or another. I would suggest that for many of the folks who are elected here, part of the reason we wind up in this place is a result of our standing up for rights of people in one way or another over a period of time, which then gives you a little bit of name recognition.
In Hamilton we had an initiative on strengthening the Hamilton community, which dealt with the aftermath of a fire bombing of a Hindu samaj following 9/11, a very serious hate crime. The individual couldn't tell the difference between a samaj and a mosque. We had the Community Coalition Against Racism. There were times when one or the other of these organizations would raise uncomfortable issues, and to some extent you've done so yourself here today when you talked about the complicity of the peoples of Serbia and the peoples of Germany, and how far that should go.
One of the things that struck me that was a little concerning was when you made comment that perhaps the commission would be better off if it looked at imminent violence issues. To my mind, violence is usually something that happens in the heat of the moment, and there would be more responding on their part after the police had already investigated or whatever.
When it comes to the sending out of hate messages on the Internet or the media, or wherever it goes, I would suggest that this commission is well placed to deal with those areas where perhaps police forces aren't quite as sophisticated on the ground, because they haven't had the time working with it.
I'm drawn to this report—and I'm not so sure it has been made available to you—that the commission has made to Parliament. They did allude to some things in it today that are quite striking, like adding a statutory definition of hatred. That's one of the places where it's easy to misplace what is hatred and what is not, and it says “and contempt”. The important thing for me is that it draws us back to the Supreme Court of Canada and its rulings as a foundation for taking these determinations as to how we are going to make applications of the legislated designation of what the commission is supposed to do.
It goes on talking about costs and things of that nature, but this report seems to be addressing in a way some of the concerns that have been out there in recent times. I think there's a real effort.
As you can see, I'm making more of a statement than I am asking a particular question. Feel free, sir, to respond in any fashion you feel like.
I'm frightened that a body that we have in place, the Human Rights Commission and the tribunals, which is tasked with one of the most difficult jobs in our country, because of one or two very serious issues, one or two judgments that were made, is being put at risk by people in this country who could minimize or contain their ability to do their job. So coming back to where we're at with all of this, it is to find a way that if they have strayed--and that's a large “if”--then judging by the opinions of the court and whatever legislation may well flow out of this determination as to how we address it, the important part is that we don't minimize their ability to perform a very serious and very important job.
If you look at what happened in Nazi Germany, and what happened with Kosovo and the other areas, if you'd had a Human Rights Commission in place in the years before, there's a chance that people like Hitler would not have sustained the power that they did in the manner they did over the years.
I think I've opened a door here that I'm sure you will have many a comment on.
Mr. A. Borovoy:
Have you ever.
I'll just say one word about Germany. Pre-Hitler Germany had anti-hate legislation very similar to what we have in Canada now, and in the 15-year period before Hitler came to power, there were more than 200 prosecutions based on anti-Semitic speech. And in the opinion of the leading Jewish organization of the day, they thought the prosecutions were well handled some 90% of the time. So it didn't matter at the time it was most needed.
When you talk about what you do about the Human Rights Commission, and that what I'm advocating may disable it somehow, I would say au contraire. I began by making the point that I'm very much in favour of the rest of what human rights commissions do, and I think those programs should be strengthened.
I do not think the provision or the addition in the human rights legislation of definitions of hatred would help all that much. In fact, I was rather surprised that anyone would think it would make that much difference. Just to give you one example, the definition talks about “strong detestation”. I ask a question: Is “strong detestation” any clearer than “hatred”? That is just the problem with these definitions. And it's not their fault. It's not the fault of the judges who wrote it. That's the problem when you make words like that the basis of an offence in law. There is inherent, inescapable vagueness.
Human rights commissions could still perform a valuable function where expressions of hatred are concerned. They have an educational mandate, and they could make increasingly imaginative use of that mandate to promote, to publish responses, and to undertake preventative programs. There are all kinds of things human rights commissions could do.
In all fairness, I'm not as au courant with what commissions are doing these days. I've been drifting into other fields. But at one time I worked rather closely with Dr. Daniel G. Hill, the first director of a human rights commission in Canada, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and he had a lot of imaginative educational programs. I think there is a lot commissions could do about it.
That's why I say I want to get back to the response I gave to Mr. Rae earlier. It's not an either/or proposition. We don't have to use the legal stick or do nothing.
Mr. David Sweet:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'm going give the bulk of my time to my colleague, Mr. Hiebert, but I did want to say a couple of things.
First off, I agree with you, Mr. Borovoy, about the large portion of good work that the Canadian Human Rights Commission does. I think the commission is suffering from something that.... There's a phrase in U.S. jurisprudence: that the United States justice system doesn't only have to be just but has to appear just. I think there's an issue there of credibility now, publicly, that they're going to have to deal with. One witness mentioned the things in the media, and I understand that; we deal with the media all the time, trying to straighten out stories.
One of the things you mentioned about the breadth and scope of section 13 I think is eluding the commission as well. I say that in the sense that the Canadian Human Rights Act was not meant to be punitive but remedial in nature, because it would damage anybody's reputation beyond their capability to recover by simply going to a tribunal. Anyone who has a complaint lodged against him, which is easy to have happen because of the breadth of it, has to seek legal counsel, because they would be terrified of going before a tribunal that would be public and then they would be named as a person who would be, of course, guilty of hate speech.
That's one of the main concerns I have around the issue. You can comment on that, but I want to leave the questioning to my colleague, Mr. Hiebert.
Mr. Russ Hiebert:
In the same report from the commission, the chief commissioner herself recommended that there be an opportunity for court costs, legal costs, to be awarded to the defendant, to the person who's responding to the complaint, in cases where there is abuse. In my mind, it would seem that.... Well, in a real court of law, we know that court costs can be awarded not only for frivolous or vexatious lawsuits, but also in cases where a person was innocent and the judge felt it appropriate that the complainant bear the costs, whether or not it was abusive.
Would you agree that costs in these situations should be allowed to be awarded to those individuals who are in fact innocent, keeping in mind that complainants do not have the benefit of legal advice provided, as it is to the complainants themselves? The system is very skewed against the person who is trying to defend his reputation, and it would seem to me that having a regular process where a complainant has to keep in mind that he might have to pay the court costs of the person they're complaining against would be a good deterrent against frivolous or vexatious complaints.
Thank you very much, Mr. Borovoy.
I want to draw the attention of members of the subcommittee to an important scheduling matter. On Thursday we'll be meeting at 12 o'clock instead of in our usual 12:30 time slot. That's to permit us to have one hour to question Professor Martin, who will be our witness, followed by an hour in camera to begin giving drafting instructions to our analysts on our report on human rights in Iran. On the basis that there may not be enough time in that hour to give full instructions after all the hearings we've had, I've also convened a second meeting, which can be cancelled if we don't need it, that will take place at 3:30 on Thursday so that we can finish our drafting instructions. With any luck, we won't need it, but if we do need it, it's there. It's easier to cancel than it is to set up a room de novo.
On that basis, please clear your schedules. And please take advantage of the two days we have to organize yourselves to ask any questions you have for our analysts, so that we can come prepared for this.
Thank you very much, everybody.
We are adjourned.