Yesterday, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal did something its never done in its 32-year history. It acquitted somebody of "hate speech" charges. Until now, the tribunal had a 100% conviction rate.
In a 107-page ruling, tribunal member Athanasios Hadjis didn't just throw out the case against Marc Lemire, he threw out the law, too, calling it an infringement of the free speech guarantees of the Charter of Rights.
Hadjis is no wild-eyed civil libertarian. In the recent past, he himself has convicted people under this same law. And, before Jean Chretien appointed him to the tribunal, Hadjis was the boss of one of Montreal's largest multicultural lobby groups, which thrived on ethnic identity politics. But even Hadjis has had enough of the human rights industry and their fetish for political correctness. He ruled that allowing Canadian citizens to express offensive ideas is preferable to living under a government that prosecutes people for expressing those ideas.
As of yesterday, it's no longer illegal to write politically incorrect things on the Internet. Now it's illegal to prosecute someone for it.
This will have an immediate impact on the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), which maintains a large censorship department and has other cases under investigation. If the CHRC were a real police force, and the tribunal were a real court, all existing censorship cases would be dropped, and anyone who was previously convicted would have their convictions voided. Dozens of lawsuits against the government for wrongful prosecution, and compensation for costs, wouldn't be far behind.
But the tribunal isn't a real court, and Hadjis acknowledged that he doesn't have the power to strike down the law, only to declare it unconstitutional and to refuse to apply it. The CHRC has ignored the tribunal before: In this same case, Lemire was routinely denied his procedural rights by the CHRC, including its outrageous tactic of waiting until the trial was over before disclosing all of its documents to him. Even worse, some bizarre CHRC conduct came to light, including confessions by their staff that they joined neo-Nazi organizations and published bigoted comments on the Internet to entrap their targets. A real court would have thrown the case out years ago, and a real police force would have disciplined such rogue conduct.
Still, it's a great day for Charter values like freedom of speech. But how long will it last? The human rights industry knew this was an important case, and over the past six years it spent millions of tax dollars fighting Lemire. The federal government had six lawyers on the case--four from the CHRC and two from the Justice Minister's office. And there were five lawyers intervening on behalf of Canada's tax-subsidized Jewish groups, the B'nai Brith, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).
Yesterday, the CJC issued a bizarre press release in which it states that, despite the tribunal's clear ruling, it believes the censorship law "remains constitutional." In the next few weeks, the CJC and the rest of the human rights litigation industry will clamour for the government to appeal this decision.
It was one thing for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to defend the constitutionality of a government law that was under attack -- that's standard operating procedure. But now that the law has been found to be illegal, it would be quite another thing for Nicholson to positively act to revive such an illiberal law. Nicholson must also put a leash on the disgraced CHRC, and order it not to appeal either. They've already done more than enough damage to Canada's civil liberties, at great expense to taxpayers.
In fact, just leaving Hadjis's ruling intact isn't enough--his ruling illustrates a deeper rot in the CHRC. Hadjis found that the CHRC has become much more aggressive and confrontational in recent years, and at the same time it started applying punitive sanctions -- such as issuing fines of tens of thousands of dollars. That toxic mix of abusive conduct with criminal-style punishments was specifically forbidden by the Supreme Court when it last reviewed the censorship laws in 1990.
It's that bullying corporate culture that Nicholson needs to address. Nicholson should start by ordering Jennifer Lynch, the CHRC's chief commissioner, to stop her expensive campaign of demonization against the commission's critics. And then he should call in a retired judge -- or the auditor-general -- to do a thorough biopsy to find out how Canada's human rights agency became such a threat to our human rights.
Ezra Levant blogs at ezralevant.com