May/June, 1999 Volume XIII Number 6
Will abortionists be the next “protected minority”?
by Terry O’Neill
Reprinted with permission from
(BC) Report, January 11, 1999
Columbia, CANADA -- When Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh visited Killarney Secondary School in Vancouver last month to launch Human Rights Week, he challenged BC youth to take the lead “in promoting equality, fairness and justice.”
Noting that Killarney’s students, who represent 30 different ethnic groups, had formed a successful multicultural club, Dosanjh said, “Our province’s youth can become leaders in their own right to work with compassion and make their schools and communities more just and fair [and to] find ways to change situations of prejudice, discrimination and racism.”
Dosanjh’s uplifting message of mutual respect went over well with the audience, which was composed mainly of Grade 11 students; indeed, principal Bob Calder says the minister received enthusiastic applause at the end of his presentation. Nevertheless, no one in attendance noticed that something important was missing, not only from Dosanjh’s speech but from the question-and-answer session that followed. And that was that no acknowledgement was made of the escalating attacks being mounted by human rights activists on the basic, fundamental civil liberties supposedly enjoyed by all citizens.
While many Canadians think of human rights and civil liberties as essentially the same thing, a growing number of observers say it is increasingly apparent that federal and provincial human rights initiatives are at war with individual rights and civil liberties.
“Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society,” says Stephen Harper, president of the National Citizens’ Coalition. “It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff.”
In his new book Canada: Is Anyone Listening?, Vancouver broadcaster Rafe Mair devotes an entire chapter to what he sees as a troubling trend.
“We make a serious mistake in thinking that slights to races or people on account of their race (or religion, sexual persuasion, marital status, etc.) must be dealt with by the state,” Mair writes. “Once that happens, freedom of speech becomes seriously curtailed generally.” Furthermore, he warns, “We are currently moving toward a society that officially disapproves of unpopular views and applies sanctions on inconvenient free speech. Not only is this philosophically unbearable to me and many other Canadians, it is impractical.”
But not so impractical as to prevent activists and the federal and provincial governments from looking to expand anti-hate-speech laws.
“We’re going to see more of this use of anti-hate [rules] against people and organizations that have refused to keep up with political correctness,” syndicated columnist Steve Weatherbe concluded after attending a conference on anti- hate legislation at the University of Victoria last June.
His prediction was right. BC Report has learned that a powerful activist with close ties to the NDP government wants Victoria to examine whether its human rights law might be amended to crack down on “hate speech” by anti-abortion activists. Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh has not commented on the matter publicly, but he is already recognized as being an enthusiastic supporter of ever-broader anti-free-speech laws. Indeed, he is the driving force behind the move to expand the Criminal Code of Canada’s anti-hate-crime provisions. The suggested amendments, which could be introduced in the House of Commons this spring, seek to expand hate-speech provisions to include sex, sexual orientation, age and mental or physical disability. Race and religious belief are already covered.
“Worse, under the reforms, accused hate-mongers would be unable to defend themselves on the basis of sincere belief in the truth of whatever they were allegedly mongering,” Calgary Herald columnist Peter Stockland wrote last month.
Placing the blame for the proposed changes squarely on the shoulders of Dosanjh “and his cadre of social reconstruction bureaucrats,” Stockland writes that the amendments “must raise the neck hair of all concerned about free speech and the free contest of ideas.”
BC already has the distinction of being the home to human rights laws so far-reaching and so restrictive that they seem designed to protect “everybody from anything that might hurt their feelings,” Lisa S. Dean of the Free Congress Foundation, of Washington, D.C., asserted in a recent column.
Vancouver Sun columnist Denny Boyd once labelled Mary-Woo Sims, the powerful chairman of the BC Human Rights Commission, as “Big Sister, kinfolk to George Orwell’s Big Brother and she is in charge of thought conversion.”
Indeed, while the anti-hate-speech provisions of the BC Human Rights Act are intended to prevent any person from being exposed to hatred or contempt because of his ethnic background, colour, place or origin, religion, family status, physical and mental disability, gender, sexual orientation or age, a growing number of critics say the act has also had the effect of placing a chill on free speech, especially on the expression of unorthodox ideas about such touchy issues as immigration, language and homosexuality.
Will the abortion debate now be added to that list too? The woman pushing for such a change to provincial law is Joyce Arthur, spokesman for the Pro-Choice Action Network. At an October rally held to mourn slain New York abortionist Barnett Slepian, Arthur was quoted by the Vancouver Sun as blaming the “hateful rhetoric” of anti-abortion leaders for inciting extremists to violence.
Abortionists: a new minority?
“Their words are killing words,” she said. “They are an open invitation to violence.”
The pro-abortion movement’s linking of anti-abortion rhetoric (which often describes abortion as “murder” but less often characterizes abortionists as “murderers”) to acts of violence against abortionists is hardly novel. The NDP government of Mike Harcourt justified its imposition of anti-free-speech bubble zones around abortion clinics by employing a similar line of reasoning. What is new this time, however, is that the alleged linkage is now being cited as a grounds for either amending or reinterpreting the Human Rights Act.
In a December interview with BC Report, Arthur recognized the potential her ideas had for censoring free speech (the right to which is guaranteed in the Constitution), but said that after the killing of Slepian, pro-abortion leaders in BC concluded that pro-life rhetoric describing abortionists as child killers “could be classified as hate literature.”
Exactly where the line of illegality should be drawn, however, is another matter.
“If someone wants to say that abortion providers are evil,” that would be permitted, Arthur says. But if someone said all abortionists should be dead, “I think it would be iffy. It would be very close to the [hate-speech] line.” If, however, someone said that all abortionists should be killed, it would unquestionably be hate speech. “At that point it [should be] illegal,” she says.
Hate-filled speech from anti-abortionists might be outlawed by one of two means, Arthur explains. Abortionists might be added to the list of groups protected by human rights legislation, just as people of colour, women and homosexuals are. This would have the effect of making it illegal for anyone to say anything that gives rise to hatred or discrimination against abortionists.
“I think you can make the argument that doctors who provide abortions are obligated to perform them,” she says. “They can’t change their behaviour,” just as black people cannot change the colour of their skin. Therefore, they deserve protection based on who they are.
Another way to protect abortionists from hate speech, but without changing the current legislation, is, “If you say hate crime against doctors is really hate crime against women.”
She explains that because women have the right to abortions, anything hateful said to doctors that persuades them not to perform abortions has the effect, therefore, of depriving women of that right.
“Maybe it’s possible that the gender clause could be used to prosecute some anti-choice literature, if it can be seen as discriminating against women,” Arthur says. However, she concedes that such an interpretation is “probably a long shot.”
Asked December 11 whether she had communicated these ideas to anyone in government, Arthur responded tersely. “No, I haven’t,” she said. “I don’t really want to say any more than what I’ve already told you.” Arthur is known to have close ties to Women’s Equality Minister Sue Hammell and to Attorney General Dosanjh.
Ted Gerk of Kelowna, a prominent anti-abortion activist, is appalled by what he hears from Arthur.
“It’s another example of trying to totally eliminate all opposition to abortion,” Gerk says. “We’ve got to the point where there’s not even room for debate any more.
They’ve already tried to silence the message. Now they’re trying to go a step further and silence the messenger.”
The issue should be worrisome to more than anti-abortion activists, he explains; all citizens concerned with the constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech should be worried about such Draconian ideas.
“The moment they take that step it’s only a matter of time until other elements of free speech are stomped upon,” Gerk says.
Nevertheless, it is clear that human rights activists are drawing a bead of free speech in many new areas. In Saskatchewan, for example, that province’s human rights commission ruled in November that a North Battleford carpet cleaner, Tim Houk, had violated Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code when he talked about aboriginal issues to a native Indian woman, at whose office he was working. He said, for example, that, “If you ask me, there shouldn’t be any reserves.” The commission fined him $400 for discrimination.
Similarly in Alberta, Phil Fontaine, grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has filed a complaint under that province’s Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act against Alberta Report. Fontaine claimed that an article the magazine published (and which was published concurrently in BC Report), that questioned the extent of abuses at native Indian residential schools, could evoke hatred towards Indians.
Human rights authorities in Alberta had the power to dismiss the complaint at the outset, but instead chose to call publisher Link Byfield to a hearing at which he must defend the story. If Alberta’s human rights commission rules against the magazine, it has the power to order that Byfield write an apology, pay damages to Fontaine or even attend mandatory “education sessions” about human rights.
Fontaine’s lawyer is University of Calgary law professor Kathleen Mahoney, a familiar cog in the country’s human rights machinery. Indeed, she is a key witness for the BC government in an ongoing case involving the constitutionality of this province’s Human Rights Code. The little- publicized case, which began in November before BC Supreme Court Justice Pamela Kirkpatrick, involves Kelowna rancher Bill Berscheid, who has been involved in a decade-long water-rights dispute with the Westbank Indian Band. To express his frustration, Berscheid erected insulting signs on his property saying such things as, “Fish and wildlife may be yours but learn to keep your proud Indian nose out of white man’s personal affair,” and “Oka II Reality-Indians are parasites, our government rats.”
The band complained to the Human Rights Commission, but Berscheid’s lawyer, controversial free speech advocate Doug Christie of Victoria, was successful in diverting the matter to BC Supreme Court to test the constitutionality of Section 7 of the Human Rights Code, which bans writing or utterances that could lead to discrimination against certain identified groups. Earlier, free speech supporters had hoped the 1997 human rights tribunal action against North Shore News columnist Doug Collins would lead to a constitutionality showdown as well, but the tribunal ended up clearing Collins, thus short-circuiting the constitutional challenge.
Collins boycotted a second similar action, heard this past summer. The tribunal has yet to render its verdict on the latter matter.
The Berscheid trial ran for two weeks in Victoria, but was adjourned until June for three more weeks of testimony in Vancouver.
Regardless of Madam Justice Kirkpatrick’s eventual ruling, evidence presented by government lawyers in defence of the Human Rights Act sheds a light on the level of regard human rights activists have for such civil liberties as freedom of speech. Mahoney, for example, testified that the current provincial law was entirely consistent with a “requirement to protect equality.” In other words, limiting freedom is necessary in order to ensure that all people are equal. As reported in the Alberni Valley Times, another pro-government witness, Liza Mrozinski, of the Ministry of the Attorney General, testified that the signs’ offensiveness is what justified limiting Berscheid’s right to express himself.
More telling still, Francis Henry, a York University sociologist, testified that it did not matter whether what Berscheid was saying was true or not; what mattered was how insensitive he was being toward an oppressed group.
“Truth is difficult to deal with because it’s difficult to define and difficult to determine,” Henry opined. “Truth must be told in a sensitive way backed by an explanation.”
Thus truth is no defence for Berscheid if the truth hurts.
The problem with this view of the world, suggests Vancouver lawyer John Dixon of the BC Civil Liberties Association, is that no one -- from legal mastermind to average citizen -- knows exactly what sort of speech is permitted and what is not. Not only does this uncertainty lead to needless self-censorship, but it undermines faith in the entire legal system. Dixon sees signs that the free-speech chill is thawing on university campuses, but others see the freeze deepening throughout society.
Indeed, human rights activists at a November conference in Edmonton, marking the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, were unapologetic in their defence of what critics call the human right juggernaut.
“Civil liberties is a concept of rights that require the state not to interfere with our liberties,” Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Rosalie Abella said at the conference.
She added approvingly, however, that “Human rights, on the other hand, cannot be realized without the state’s intervention.”
Madam Justice Abella made no bones about the fact that she thought human rights should trump civil rights if it helps to protect or advance the interests of an allegedly oppressed group, and she denigrated civil libertarians for standing in the way of the human rights movement.
“They use the language of the right to freedom of association to defeat our sense of community,” she declared. “They use the language of the right to freedom of religion to defeat religious choice; they use the language of the right to equality to defeat diversity; they use the language of the right to freedom of the press to defeat our intelligence; and they use the language of the right to freedom of expression to defeat our opinions.”
The effect of what Madam Justice Abella is asserting, says West Vancouver resident Michael Markwick, a former executive assistant at the Ontario Human Rights Commission, is that “human rights is being used in such as way as to curb public freedom, which is being seen by leading commentators in the area as an almost unrecoverable catastrophe for a civil society.”
Markwick, the former spokesman for the Catholic Civil Rights League and currently a post-graduate student at Simon Fraser University, maintains that what is missing is a balance between protection from discrimination of broad categories of people, and “the freedom to engage with confidence as a citizen, and play an active role without fear of persecution.”
“What I fear happening,” he says, “is that human rights provisions are being given a broad interpretation with no regard to governing principles” such as liberty and good citizenship. “In the end it’s democracy that suffers, because it makes it impossible to come to a meeting of minds with people.”
The war between human rights and civil liberties is being waged on many fronts in BC, not the least important of which is the Nisgaa Final Agreement. In fact, one of Premier Glen Clark’s opening gambits in the Nisgaa treaty debate was to reject a province-wide referendum on the deal on the grounds that holding any vote “on minority rights would be inappropriate.”
Two wrongs make a "right"
Traditional civil libertarians argued that the premier’s comment was a red herring because native Indians already have all the rights of any other Canadian citizens-the right to vote in elections, the right to move freely throughout the country and the right to free speech, to name just three. However, it is now apparent that Clark was not describing individual rights when he talked about “minority rights,” but was actually advancing an argument that reflects what has become standard human rights rhetoric of late: that certain disadvantaged or oppressed groups deserve special group rights that trump the rights of individuals.
Thus, the Nisgaa treaty gives the Nisgaa people a special form of government which assumes powers from Victoria and Ottawa in at least 14 areas. Only Nisgaa members can serve on this government, and only Nisgaa people can vote for it. Non-Nisgaa living on Nisgaa lands will be denied a direct say in the Nisgaa government.
Furthermore, the treaty assigns to the Nisgaa 17% of the Nass River salmon run. Opposition to this race-based fishery is the basis for the Fisheries Survival Coalition’s court challenge of the treaty.
No anti-treaty leaders have directly identified the tension between human rights and civil liberties as a source for their antagonism towards the deal, but it is clear from their rhetoric that this concern underlies much of their opposition.
“The sad fact remains that non-Nisgaa residents won’t have any right to vote or run for office in Nisgaa government,” Martyn Brown, former executive director of the Citizens’ Voice on Native Claims and currently a top BC Liberal party strategist, wrote a year ago. “They forever will be denied that most basic of all democratic rights, ironically, in the name of ‘equality’ for aboriginal Canadians.”
As the uncertainty over Premier Clark’s “minority rights” comment indicates, a major problem exists in understanding just what is meant by the word “rights.” “What’s important here,” says Stephen Harper, president of the National Citizens’ Coalition, “is the whole bastardization of the term, ‘right.’ It is supposed to mean, something which you can do, which by its very nature others can do too, and which the government should not prevent you from doing.”
However, “What the new ‘rights’ definition means is precisely the opposite of that. It’s now being turned into the right of one particular group to demand things of another, which by their very nature can’t be reciprocated. That goes to the heart of this.”
Bumper stickers reading “Eat the Rich” abound in Vancouver’s Commercial Drive area, but no government body ever criticizes the cars’ owners for propagating hate speech on the basis of socio-economic status. Similarly, a message on a website belonging to the Animal Liberation Front reads: “The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And those who are killing it have names and addresses.”
Two standards, no justice
Yet animal-rightists are never accused of using hate speech that might provoke their followers to violence.
In the same vein, some feminists say all men are rapists; again, authorities rarely cite such language as hate speech. Likewise, a BC aboriginal leader once said native Indians should have killed all white settlers when they had the chance; the leader, Bill Wilson, escaped official censure of any sort.
But let someone suggest that the poor fend for themselves, that feminists are man-haters, or that not all Indians were abused in residential schools, and he will probably stand accused of propagating hate speech and just as likely feel the weight of the province’s human rights machinery. Why the double standard?
The differing responses appear to be the result of the political left’s hegemony over the human rights infrastructure in this country.
Only human rights activists, who are predominately left-wing, are appointed to such bodies as BC’s Human Rights Commission.
The result is that spokesmen for “progressive” causes such as feminism and aboriginal sovereignty are allowed to say whatever they want about their conservative opponents, but the reverse is not true. The irony is that the political left embraces “tolerance” but then often shows itself to be intolerant of free speech.
Nowhere was the double standard more apparent than in the controversy over an editorial written in early November by BC Catholic editor Paul Schratz, who suggested that some good might come from the killing of an abortionist. He made it clear, however, that all such killing was morally indefensible. Nevertheless, Maria Corsillo, the director of a Toronto abortion clinic, spoke for many pro-abortionists when she said she would write to Solicitor General Andy Scott to demand a criminal investigation into the editorial.
Yet, while anti-abortion commentary from Catholics is greeted with the threat of prosecution, anti-Catholic vitriol has become commonplace in such mainstream publications as the Vancouver Province. For example, the paper conjured up a stereotypical view of Catholicism on December 6 when it urged the Church not to oppose the liquidation of two Catholic high schools in BC to pay compensation to victims of abuse.
“Religious orders are masters at laying guilt trips on others,” the paper opined, adding later that, “Sure, there are easier ways than liquidating two exclusive schools-liquidate a few golden goblets.”
Ed DeVita, BC regional director of the Catholic Civil Rights League, says he found the editorial difficult to counter because any criticism of it might be construed as a defence of sex abuse-and he certainly did not want to do that. Yet, DeVita says it is clear the piece was a classic display of “anti- Catholic bigotry.”about having “8,000 spies for life” who gather information about abortion providers and their families.
(Edited for style)
Anti-abortion comic as terrifying as a home invasion, Canadian official
Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA -- An anti-abortion comic being mailed to the residences of BC doctors is as terrifying as a home invasion, Health Minister Penny Priddy said.
Priddy said she would consult with Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh to see if there is a means of prosecuting those sending the material under criminal harassment laws.
Priddy was reacting to news that BC doctors have been receiving the comics, produced by the Texas-based anti-abortion group Life Dynamics Inc., at their homes this week.
The comic, titled Quack the Ripper -- news from the red-light district of medicine, depicts doctors who do abortions as zealots, amoral buffoons and "drooling psychotics."
The book is a litany of jokes and quotations from various abortionists decrying the low level of the practice of abortion.
In a written statement, Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher said the company refuses interview requests unless media outlets promise in writing to publish all statements in their entirety, unedited.
Also, police in Ontario began investigating the mail-out of the comics after doctors there complained they had been getting them.
"If you are in the medical community, someone is out to get you," Priddy points out that the comic states.
What Priddy does not mention is that the statement is in connection with an aggressive campaign by the abortion industry to "get" people in the medical community to join the ranks of a socially ostracized and medically despised "specialty" of abortion – not that anti-abortion people are trying to "get" them.
Priddy said the comics could certainly be taken as threatening given that three Canadian doctors who do abortions have been shot in sniper attacks since 1994.
"This is simply a different kind of home invasion when material this terrifying comes to your home -- a place where you are supposed to be safe," Priddy said. "This is an invasion of your home."
She said it also appears that lists or directories of BC doctors are being made available or sold to anti-abortion extremists.
"Whoever is taking this information should be automatically fired," Priddy said.
Neither the BC Medical Association nor the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC returned telephone calls.
One doctor who got the comic at his home last week said he has nothing to do with abortions, but said he was still extremely disturbed by what he received.
The Vancouver doctor, who asked not to be identified, said he was so offended he threw the material out without reporting it to anyone. But now he thinks it would be good if the medical association or another body investigated.
Joyce Arthur, of the Pro-Choice Action Network, said she knows of several BC doctors who received the comic, which bears a New York bulk mail postmark, suggesting Life Dynamics purchased a mailing list to send it out..
She said it is clearly an attempt to dehumanize abortion providers, which Arthur says is the first step to encouraging violence against them.
"That is exactly what the Nazis did to the Jews," she said. "I think the mailings were primarily targeting medical students."
She said that more research needed to be done on who in BC got the comic and how information about them was obtained.
"It would be really good to know the extent of this kind of harassment," Arthur said.
Arthur noted that Life Dynamics boasts about having "8,000 spies for life" who gather information about abortion providers and their families.
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