Liberal MP Keith Martin is troubled by the fact that an upcoming hearing of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Mar. 25 is going to be held in camera.
"I think it speaks to the fact that the tribunals themselves have to be examined, writ large," Martin said in a telephone interview today from Parliament Hill.
On the 25th, commission staff, as well as a frequent complainant, will be cross-examined on whether they have used assumed names to plant hate messages or entrap other posters on websites and message forums under investigation.
Earlier this year, Martin introduced private member's motion M-446 to cut Subsection 13(1)--the thought crimes provision-- of the Canadian Human Rights Act. He recognizes, however, that is only a first step. He thinks all the activities of the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) have to be examined, not just the controversial subsection that allows the CHRC to investigate speech that may be likely to expose a person or group to contempt of hatred.
Martin thinks an investigation is necessary "to make sure that they have not wandered far from their original mandate, as I would claim, but that they are serving the public interest and Canadians’ human rights, not the trampling all over them, which I would maintain that they are."
Meanwhile, Martin is hoping to crack open the operations of the CHRC by persuading the parliamentary committee for human rights to do a public examination. He has spoken to one member of the committee so far and that individual thought it was a good idea.
"We can’t let the commission go on as it is now," he said. "The issue is much larger than 13.1," he said, describing his motion as a mere "springboard" to examine the CHRC. He hopes that a thorough examination of the federal commission will prompt provincial legislatures to look at their own legislation and commissions.
"It’s one of those things that operate under the radar screen," he said. "Most Canadians aren’t aware unless of course they are confronted by the wrath of a human rights commission.
The case on March 25 involves Marc Lemire, who is accused of being a white supremacist. That makes his cause unpopular and poses a danger that those who defend him will experience guilt by association. When Canadian Press wrote about Martin's motion, the first line of the story described him as a poster boy for neo-Nazis because some far-right sites applauded the move. Martin, who is an immigrant with a mixed East Indian background, shrugged off the initial smear.
Aside from that story and one with a similar angle on CBC Radio, mainstream journalists have barely covered the human rights complaints involving Maclean's Magazine for running an excerpt of Mark Steyn's book America Alone and Ezra Levant for republishing the Mohammed cartoons. However, columnists and editorial boards across the country and in both national newspapers, as well as talk radio hosts, have been almost uniformly outraged by HRC abuses, especially in their overreaching in the Maclean's and Levant cases.
Martin sees some important rights at stake in the Lemire case as well.
"Somebody may have allegly committed an odious act, but people are still innocent until proven guilty until proven guilty in a court of law," he said. "If we don’t protect everybody’s rights to due process then nobody’s protected."