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Letter to the Editor published in Maclean's Magazine

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April 22, 2008


Letters to the Editor
Maclean’s Magazine
One Mount Pleasant Road
11th Floor
Toronto, ON M4Y 2Y5

Re: “Free to Speak”, April 28, 2008 print edition

The editors of Maclean’s believe that “Human rights commissions are undermining the fundamental Charter rights of all Canadians.”

With respect, we disagree.

Our action in dismissing the complaints against the Maclean’s articles supports freedom of expression. Our action in calling for debate and discussion also supports that principle.

In our decision we explained that the complaints were not within our jurisdiction. The decision not to proceed was the result of careful consideration of the law. Any other interpretation would have interfered with freedom of expression.

Once that decision was made, we were free to comment on the issues raised. We followed the correct process for both aspects of our mandate under section 29 of the Ontario Human Rights Code – protecting and promoting human rights in order to create “… a climate of understanding and mutual respect for the dignity and worth of each person…,” as set out in the Preamble.

Stereotyping hurts the people and groups targeted, their families and their communities, and ultimately, all of us. In the post-9/11 world, we have seen more and more negative portrayals of Muslims and the rise of Islamophobia. Like racial profiling and other types of discrimination, ascribing the behaviour of individuals to a group damages everyone in that group. We have always spoken out on such issues.

Maclean’s and its writers are free to express their opinions. The OHRC is mandated to express what it sees as unfair and harmful comment or conduct that may lead to discrimination.

We need to keep in mind that freedom of expression is not the only right in the Charter. There is a full set of rights accorded to all members of our society, including freedom from discrimination. No single right is any more or less important than another. And the enjoyment of one depends on the enjoyment of the other. This means if you want to stand up and defend the right to freedom of expression then you must be willing to do the same for the right to freedom from discrimination.

The human rights system exists in Canada, in part, to shine a light on prejudice and to provoke debate – and action. We called for debate and dialogue; we still do.

We have taken controversial views before and no doubt will again. That is inevitable because we have a mandate to promote change – away from unfair stereotypes and discriminatory behaviour and towards a culture of human rights.

We agree with the Editors of Maclean’s: critics are entitled to their opinions. Sometimes we must be critical. We have that duty, enshrined in law, to speak up on human rights issues of the day – and we will continue to do so.

Yours truly,

Barbara Hall
Chief Commissioner