I have had two Rob Nicholson sightings in the past two days! From reports, these sightings are pretty rare. For example, the Justice Minister has not responded to Mark Steyn's
requests for interviews, so Mark wondered if he had entered a witness protection program.
I know of at least one other journalist who has tried to find him for an interview and had no luck. Ezra Levant recently urged Nicholson to call his office.
My first sighting occurred on Wednesday. I was walking along the first floor corridor in East Block
and poof! There he was! I was so shocked that all I could muster was, "Hello, Mr. Nicholson."
He's a very nice, cordial man. So, he said "hello" back. He moved by too fast for me to say anything more. I wondered whether he has ever read my blog.
To my surprise---I saw him again on Thursday morning. I felt like a bird watcher who had managed to sight the same rare species twice in a row in different environs. But he was faaaaaar
away, up high on a platform at the head table of the Canadian National Prayer Breakfast, while I was seated at a round table in the Congress Centre ballroom way towards the back.
Nicholson sat next to representatives of the three other political parties in the House of Commons and read a Scripture passage selected by Judy Graves, a Vancouver homeless advocate who gave the keynote speech. Bloc MP Raymond Gravel was up there, too, wearing his Roman collar. NDP
Leader Jack Layton was up there reading Scripture, too--the only party leader I could see at the packed event that has grown too large to be hosted on Parliament Hill anymore. There were more than 800 people, including MPs
from all parties, ambassadors, clergy and religious leaders.
It is my hunch that Nicholson does not agree with the Justice Department brief that has caused such an uproar on the blogosphere
, though I do not know Nicholson in the same way I know many of the other MPs
and cabinet ministers. Given how busy cabinet ministers are, it is distinctly possible that he had not even read it, though I imagine (and I hope) he has now, or his staff deserve to be fired en masse
There are others who know me well enough to talk to me off the record, but he's not one of them. Nicholson is caution personified. I think that's why he was put into the job and Vic Toews
shuffled from Justice to Treasury Board. While Toews
is eminently quotable , Nicholson is a master of blandness. You'll never catch him making a gaffe (which is why he was put in the post during the controversial marriage debate), but you're pretty unlikely to see him quoted anywhere either, because journalists are looking for spicy 7-second sound bites, or quotes that zing off the page. Nicholson deliberately does not provide them.
Ezra Levant has a good overview today of the growing momentum to end the abuses of so-called human rights commissions.
It's tough to gauge political momentum in Ottawa, especially from 3,000 kilometres away. But I think that the campaign to abolish section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the thought crimes section, is positively buzzing.
Well, I'm here in Ottawa and yes, it is positively buzzing. But a lot of the buzzing is still behind the scenes. My tally of MPs
who support MP Keith Martin's motion to axe s. 13 continues to grow well beyond the number whose support has been identified publicly.
But the press gallery has not picked up on that buzz. For example when Keith Martin scrummed yesterday at the microphone in the House of Commons foyer and called the Justice Department brief "shocking," the size of the scrum was not exactly huge and bristling with microphones. CP's
drifted by as did the CBC's
Julie Van Dusen
, but I don't think they stuck around long. CPAC
was there, but asked a question on something else. Mostly it was CFRB Radio bureau chief Brian Lilley and myself.
As Ezra points out, now that the Justice Department has filed a brief in support of the controversial thought crimes provision, the mess has landed on the Justice Minister's lap and he is going to have to respond:
But the chemical reaction really heated up when the Department of Justice released its outrageous legal brief in support of section 13. The kind of junk arguments in that memo -- that slavery and the Holocaust wouldn't have happened had there been hate speech laws; that the legal defences of truth and fair comment ought not to apply to "hate speech"; that Jews rely on hate speech laws for their self-esteem, etc. -- are the sort of thing one encounters all the time at human rights commissions. But what made this so stunning was that it was a memo written by two of the Justice Minister's own lawyers, Simon Fothergill and Alysia Davies, not some arms-length commission. These weren't CHRC nutbars. They were Rob Nicholson's own nutbars. And 50 pages really lets a guy and a gal express their nuttiness well.
That memo caused a buzz on my own website, spiking traffic, and not just from outraged readers (including appalled conservatives and Conservatives). Judging from my visitor statistics, plenty of folks in Parliament, the Justice Department, the Federal Court of Canada and various human rights commissions were very interested in the public reaction the memo got -- including that it got a public reaction at all. I understand that Blazing Catfur, who has done a particularly good job at rebutting the junk law in that memo, has received a spike in nervous visitors from both the Justice Department and the CHRC, too.
But the memo (which you can read here if you have the stomach) has caused a ruckus bigger than the blogosphere. I have had two reporters -- who haven't reported on HRCs before -- e-mail me to get background on the memo. One reporter -- to his credit! -- didn't even believe the memo was real, asking me for corroboration that it wasn't a "forged document". That's exactly how I reacted to so many of the insane details about the CHRC when I first encountered them: I simply didn't believe they were real. (I mean, if a Hollywood screenwriter came up with this, it would be rejected by test audiences with a "yeah, right!")
This document is radioactive. But it is couched in a lot of bromides about human dignity that are appealing on the surface, lulling the unwary and concealing its draconian elements, such as that truth and fair comment are no defense when it comes to alleged hate speech; or that revisiting the constitutionality of s. 13 would be an abuse of process. Or its insistence that human beings are irrational and therefore they need to have hate speech laws. Yeah, and leftwing ideologues know so much more about human nature than the philosophical titans who provided much of the foundational thinking for our traditional understanding of the rule of law and real human rights. The document basically chucks reason out the window and assumes that we need the likes of people like Ontario Human Rights Commissar Barbara Hall or Canadian Human Rights Commissar Jennifer Lynch to monitor our irrational tendencies.
Who is going to monitor their irrational tendencies?
We may not see action immediately. Marc Lemire
is not someone I suspect the Tories want to risk making a poster boy for freedom of speech. Taliban fighter Omar Khadr
gets more sympathy as a former child soldier experiencing an alleged miscarriage of justice than Lemire
does, at least on the front pages of Canada's newspapers.
A response may have to wait until after Mark Steyn
Magazine go before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. (If the Commission folks are smart they will dismiss this complaint, like yesterday).I hope Keith Martin is successful in getting the Commons justice committee to hold televised hearings
that will require members of the commission to testify and face examination and also give an opportunity for those pro and con the thought crimes provision to speak. The best bet, however, would be for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call for a Royal Commission headed up by great nonpartisan legal minds who could subpoena
witnesses and make them testify under oath. We need not only an examination of the law, but also an examination of the process.
This independent commission could then make recommendations that the government can put in place, with I hope the support of most parties. Harper was able to bypass the controversy over Afghanistan by a similar move. He might find that calling a Royal Commission the most responsible way to proceed.