4 Mail Bag


May 12 2008
4 Mail Bag


May 12 2008


‘What we need is a human rights commission to fight our human rights commissions’


THE EDITORS of Maclean's believe that “human rights commissions are undermining the fundamental Charter rights of all Canadians” (“Free to speak,” From the Editors, April 28). With respect, we disagree.

Our action in dismissing the complaints against the Maclean’s articles supports freedom of expression. Our action in calling for debate and discussion also supports that principle.

In our decision we explained that the complaints were not within our jurisdiction. The decision not to proceed was the result of careful consideration of the law. Any other interpretation would have interfered with freedom of expression.

Once that decision was made, we were free to comment on the issues raised. We followed the correct process for both aspects of our mandate under Section 29 of the Ontario Human Rights Code—protecting and promoting human rights in order to create “a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person” as set out in the preamble.

Stereotyping hurts the people and groups targeted, their families and their communities, and ultimately, all of us. In the post-9/H world, we have seen more and more negative portrayals of Muslims and the rise of Islamophobia. Like racial profiling and other types of discrimination, ascribing the behaviour of individuals to a group damages everyone in that group. We have always spoken out on such issues.

Maclean’s and its writers are free to express their opinions. The OHRC is mandated to express what it sees as unfair and harmful comment or conduct that may lead to discrimination.

We need to keep in mind that freedom of expression is not the only right in the Charter. There is a full set of rights accorded to all members of our society, including freedom from discrimination. No single right is any more or less important than another. And the enjoyment of one depends on the enjoyment of the other. This means if you want to stand up and defend the right to freedom of expression then you must be willing to do the same for the right to freedom from discrimination.

The human rights system exists in Canada, in part, to shine a light on prejudice and to

provoke debate—and action. We called for debate and dialogue; we still do.

We have taken controversial views before and no doubt will again. That is inevitable because we have a mandate to promote change—away from unfair stereotypes and discriminatory behaviour and toward a culture of human rights.

We agree with the editors of Maclean’s: critics are entitled to their opinions. Sometimes we must be critical. We have that duty, enshrined in law, to speak up on human rights issues of the day and we will continue to do so.

Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission, Toronto

I HAVE BEEN a member of the Law Society of Alberta for over 30 years. The use of the various human rights commissions to attempt to silence legitimate discussion is distressing. What is even more distressing to me is that the students that initiated this complaint are law students. Barbara Hall, the chief commissioner of the OHRC, who effectively gave a judgment without a hearing, is a lawyer. Jennifer Lynch, the chief commissioner of the CHRC, whose letter to the editor in the same issue complains of Mark Steyn’s references to unsubstantiated claims and theories, which in fact came from sworn testimony given to her own tribunal by individuals including some of her own employees, is a Queen’s Counsel. They should be more than aware that the basic underpinning of our jus-

tice system is procedural fairness for all members of society—even the ink-stained wretches at Maclean’s, who have been known to be, shall we say, critical of lawyers at times.

It is difficult to conceive of a process less procedurally fair than the behaviour of the OHRC and Ms. Hall. Perhaps it is time for the legal profession to take a stand on this issue, and join the growing movement to rein in human rights commissions across the country, since it appears to be some of our own who are leading the attack on due process and freedom of speech.

Christopher K Ford, Calgary

AFTER READING your letter from the editors and checking the record of previous CHRC fines, prohibitions and censures, I believe you are entirely right; these quasi-judicial bodies have gone too far and their mandates should be limited to physical cases of discrimination in employment, accommodation, etc. As much as possible, because it only creates ill will, they should perhaps keep their personal condemnations out of the judgment.

Grounds for libel, harassment and defamation aside, perhaps the right to free speech should be infringed only when there is a reasonable fear that grave and immediate harm will otherwise ensue, as in Rwanda.

In a free society the final arbiter is public opinion; people should be free to agree with or disagree and/or avoid what they consider wrong and/or scurrilous. As tolerance is based on the good will, intelligence and knowledgeability of the majority, enforcement seems a tad antithetical.

Doris Wrench Eisler, St. Albert, Atla.

WHAT WE NEED is a human rights commission to fight our human rights commissions. Platon Werbicky, Calgary

I HAVE BEEN READING Maclean’s for almost a year now. I have been both impressed and depressed by this highly informative magazine. I believe in freedom of speech, but only if it is exercised along with fair speech and responsibility. Maclean’s, by publishing Mark Steyn’s book excerpt, had taken one man’s sinister point of view and amplified it to the world as though it was written by an innocent child, all in the name of free speech. I fail to understand what purpose that ridiculous article served other than marginalizing and

‘Under Hillier, our troops became warriors again, worthy of my father’s generation’

creating false hatred for Islam and its mostly literate followers. I urge Maclean’s to make this a fair discussion and let the opponents of Steyn’s column publish their response, just as Steyn has been offered valuable space to explain his biases. The media has a responsibility to the public, and that includes fair speech and discussion.

Lastly, I would ask Maclean’s not to engage in issues that would marginalize any religion or race, especially Islam, which has been fighting injustice since 9/HSaadMasood, Markham, Ont.


I WAS DELIGHTED to read about the latest conservation developments, especially the garbage-fuelled generator in Ottawa (“Ten ideas that work,” Environment, April 28). If it is as good as they claim, the federal government should decree that such generators should be built all across Canada in every market area that can sustain one. Remoter areas should be formed into co-operatives large enough to support a generator. Garbage should be shipped wherever there is a plusside carbon footprint.

I personally think that much of our future economy is going to be shaped by how beneficial a process can be, rather than the monetary cost. These generators may even be a means to cleaning up old garbage dumps because they all contain much usable fuel. By cleaning them up we will remove problems associated with leachate to surface and groundwater, hopefully for the price of digging them up and for trucking costs. Many dumps such as the Burns Bog Dump here in the Lower Mainland could become generator sites, mixing in and using up existing material as current garbage loads are brought to the site. Thanks for some good news for a change. John Howard, Surrey, B.C.


AS A RECENT RETIREE, I was very interested in Brian Bethune’s article about the cures for boomers’ memory loss (“What were we just talking about?”, Help, April 28), based on Martha Weinman Lear’s book Where Did I Leave My Glasses? The first paragraph comfortingly downplayed the possibility of the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease. I rechecked the byline to remind me who wrote the article, then headed into Bethune’s discourse on for-

getting names. My interest piqued, I turned off the radio to help my concentration, and started into the paragraph about our decreasing ability to multi-task. Even then, I had to read most of the article more than once to take it all in, even the obvious part about repetition. Fortunately, I have lots of opportunity for the recommended exercise with plenty of time left for mind-challenging crossword puzzles (60 down: four letters meaning stale flatus or elderly person).

Lee Allen, Pointe Claire, Que.


CHIEF OF DEFENCE Staff Gen. Rick Hillier has been a welcomed and much-needed kick in the pants for this formerly vigorous and manly nation (“He’s a tough act to follow,” National, April 28). As a one-time army brat I had come to see the Canadian Forces as wellmeaning civil servants in powder-blue berets hoping Greek and Turkish Cypriots would

just be nice to each other. Under Hillier’s watch, our troops became warriors again, worthy of my father’s generation, who stormed the beaches of Normandy and kicked ass. Fraser Petrick, Kingston, Ont.


I FOUND THE ARTICLE by Rebecca Eckler about toddlers who refuse to sleep in their own beds hilarious and oh, so true (“Why

daddy sleeps in a princess bed,” Home, April 2l). I know from personal experience with my twins’ nightly visits, though the similarities between me and Eckler’s experience ends there. As pointed out in the article, not only is this a common occurrence, not dealing with it in a timely matter sets up parents to endure the situation for years. I encourage all parents facing a similar situation to find creative solutions to the problem or endure the screaming and crying for a week or two while your child gets used to the rules and stays in their own bed. As for Eckler, I look forward to reading her new book and suggest to her that at this point, a new spare bed may be appropriate. Bracha Mirsky, RN, Director of Counseling Services, Parenting Matters, Thornhill, Ont.

REBECCA ECKLER and her friends have badly behaved toddlers, so she writes a book about it? If this is typical of Canadian homes, it is not funny, but shameful. The author ought

to clean up her house (piles of dirty laundry on the floor, indeed) and purchase a comfortable bed for her daughter. Her “Fiancé” should clean up his language, and better yet, go sleep in his own house until he becomes “Husband.” When children are secure in their parents’ love and commitment to them (and to each other), a good night’s sleep is not so hard to come by.

Marya Haklander, Denfield, Ont.


I THINK Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik missed what might be the main answer to the question, is Canada a nation or not (“Malcolm Gladwell vs. Adam Gopnik; Canada: nation or notion?” The Maclean’s Debate, April 14). Barring the odd millionaire from Hong Kong, Britain or the Arab world, most of those who came to this country were losers of a sort. Anyone who dared cross the Atlan-

tic in the 17th century had to be pretty badly off before they came. The prize was free land, free roaming and free hunting and fishing, and as time wore on, a free country.

Some of my own forebears came from Europe as losers to Neu Amsterdam in 1623 and Massachusetts Bay in 1635. Their descendants were losers in the New England colonies and came to Upper Canada in 1792 as Loyalists—losers again. And so it was too, from Yorkshire in 1825 and Scotland in 1856. And they all have been losers looking for a better life, but their descendants, including me, are among the most fortunate for our ancestors coming to Canada. There were fish in the waters and game in the hills and rich acres that put bread and milk on the table for children who became taller and stronger than their forebears. There was and is a degree of community and compassion in helping neighbours, and common sense in dealing with the world.

If Quebec in its pride and passion does not look beyond its borders, the rest of Canada more than makes up for it. But Quebec’s pride and passion has also probably steered us away from more hopeless errors than we know. We are a people more defined by live and let live than by dictum or dogma. And we are still a haven for losers whose children, tomorrow, will be among our strong and free, and our winners.

Maurice A. Rhodes, Nelson, B.C.

Perhaps the fatuous and dewy-eyed ramblings of Gladwell and Gopnik are explained by the fact that they don’t actually live here. Thankfully, Andrew Coyne administered a bracing dose of cold reality as a chaser.

Jim O’Hare, Victoria


ANOTHER NEW biography of Emily Carr (“Learning to see ourselves,” History, April 28). Out here in British Columbia we are always happy when somebody in the east takes notice of our Emily. So with anticipation I read the introduction by Lianne George and the excerpt from the new Penguin book Emily Carr. It surprised me that there was no mention of Emily’s own collection of short stories, This and That: The Lost Stories ofEmily Carr, published a few months ago by TouchWood Press here in Victoria. All the stories in this new book were written by Emily while she was recovering from a stroke late in her life and they had been languishing in the B.C. archives for over 30 years.

Today Emily may be known more for her paintings, but, at the time of her death in 1945, she was better known for her writings. She won the Governor General’s Award for Literature for her first book in 1941-1 would think that anyone interested in reading about Emily would want to know that something new by her own hand had come to light. Gordon Switzer, Victoria