By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Westlock-St. Paul MLA is looking to educate constituents about what he sees as the overzealous bureaucracy that exists within Canada’s Human Rights Act. He has scheduled a town hall meeting for July 24 at the Fedorah Hall near Bon Accord and will speak on his Private Member’s Bill, An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act: Protecting Freedom, which passed the House of Commons in June.
Storseth’s private member’s bill, Bill C-304, called for the repealing of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, something Storseth and his supporters believe contradicts section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights, a section that freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.
“Freedom of speech is the essential aspect that allows us to enjoy to the fullest measure other freedoms: freedom of assembly, freedom of religion,” Storseth said. “They don’t have the same value if you don’t have freedom of expression to go with it.”
Storseth believes Section 13 of the federal act and Section 3 of the provincial act has infringed upon freedom of expression, something the MP views as dangerous. “At the end of the day, freedom of expression is a tool that we have always used to push boundaries, to move our democracy and our society forward, and it’s important that we don’t infringe on that. Otherwise our society doesn’t have all the mechanisms to grow that it needs.”
The politician is particularly troubled with a portion of Section 13 that reads, “…any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.” For Storseth, the word likely is too vague. “It’s a very broad definition and ambiguous,” he said. “It gives tremendous power to the bureaucrats that are enforcing this. This broad definition really allows for the bureaucrats to decide what is free speech in our country and what isn’t free speech in our country. We should never hand that kind of authority over to government officials without a proper oversight.”
He is also troubled by the loss of rights for those who are charged under Section 13. “If you are actually investigated or tried by the Human Rights Commission Tribunal under Section 13, you no longer have the right to an attorney, you no longer have the right to due process, and you no longer have the right to a speedy trial,” Storseth said. “These are all things Canadians are quite appalled [by] when they find out.”
But he is quick to point out he is not looking to allow an anything-goes approach with respect to hate speech, merely that it be tried in the regular courts. “That’s where real hate speech should be tried,” he said. “Real hate speech is something that is disgusting and we shouldn’t tolerate in our country. If you are actually perpetuating violence or hurting somebody else, then that should be investigated by a real police officer, presided over by real judges having real lawyers in court. It should be done in an open and transparent system.”
Town hall meeting planned
Storseth has been having many town hall meetings on his private members bill of late. The July 24 meeting in Fedorah is an opportunity for the MP to catch up with his constituents as well as fill them in on what he sees as an erosion of their freedoms.
“A lot of people think the fights over, but it’s not,” Storseth said of the bill’s work. “We are in the process of repealing Section 13, but we still have Section 3 right here in our own province. A province that is based on the cowboy code of the west still has Section 3 which infringes on your freedom of expression in this province.” The federal politician said Albertans need to push their local politicians to make sure Section 3 is also repealed. “A lot of people don’t know about Section 13 or Section 3 because unless you have ever been affected by it, you wouldn’t necessarily know how grievous this is.”
Storseth is looking to educate constituents on the matter at the town hall in Fedorah July 24. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.