I grew up in Calgary and I’m proud of my Alberta roots. So the other day when Mark Steyn noted that, in regard to the Danish cartoon controversy, Alberta was the only jurisdiction in the world which prosecuted anyone (Ezra Levant) over it, I felt a pang of embarrassment. It’s going to get a lot more embarrassing.
“It is a mark of shame upon Alberta,” Steyn said on Tuesday in Ottawa. He’s right, but in fairness to Albertans, nobody was really paying attention a few years back to the mischief being made by the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC). That excuse is no longer valid. Now everyone knows what malevolent forces these commissions are in our public life. Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant have seen to that.
So when the Alberta government announced last week — in a time of plummeting revenues and ballooning deficits, no less — that the AHRC was getting a $1.7-million boost in its budget, a 26% increase from last year, Albertans must have simply concluded that Premier Ed Stelmach was grossly negligent in reigning in bureaucratic empire builders. The alternative would be even worse, namely that the Premier thinks that Alberta needs more of the violations of religious liberty, censorship of the press and abuse of fundamental legal rights that the AHRC routinely provides. Having your basic liberties violated by the state is bad enough; increasing the subsidies for such illiberal activity is equal parts offensive and embarrassing.
the Progressive Conservative government really does support the abuses of the AHRC, as incredible as that would seem. Alongside the funding increase, reforms were announced in the AHRC enabling legislation. The most egregious abuses have come under Section 3, which extends AHRC jurisdiction over the press. It was the intention of Lindsay Blackett, Minister of Culture and Community Spirit — how’s that for a creepy Orwellian title? — to get rid of those provisions, but the PC caucus opted to preserve the AHRC’s censorship powers. There is nothing in the reforms to remove the abuse of legal rights endemic in AHRC investigations. It remains investigator, prosecutor and judge. If it’s embarrassing to be an Albertan, it must be mortifying to be a member of the government caucus.
After the AHRC has been thrashed in the court of public opinion for three years, its worst excesses exposed, and in the face of serious proposals for reform coming from across the political spectrum, the Alberta government will leave the AHRC with wider jurisdiction and more funding. It is a positively perverse result.
One aspect of the announced reforms attempts to put some brakes on the radical agenda of the AHRC. It would give parents the statutory right to exempt their children from classes dealing with “religion, sexuality or sexual orientation”. This is a welcome recognition that parental rights in education are superior to the desires of state-sanctioned curriculum bureaucrats. Yet it remains to be seen how this will be administered by the AHRC, the primary arm of government in favour of coercive re-education on matters homosexual.
The provisions making explicit the rights of parents are no doubt a response to the madness midwifed by the HRC next door in British Columbia, where the Ministry of Education handed over supervision of the entire curriculum to a pair of gay activists, better to ensure that correct opinions on homosexuality are formed from kindergarten on. In principle, the Alberta provisions ought to protect parents from such propaganda being forced upon their children, but there is precious little ground for confidence that the AHRC will be effective in defending parental rights in practice.
It is entirely plausible that the AHRC, citing the possibility of parents asking for exemptions, may be emboldened to go even farther in mandating radicalization of the curriculum, should it be given the chance. Putting the AHRC in charge of protecting the rights of socially conservative parents sets the foxes to guard the henhouse.