Â No Common Sense
The Ontario Human Rights Commission says it’s illegal to advertise an apartment for “students” or “seniors” only â€” that’s age discrimination.
But when the OHRC was asked about dozens of “Muslims-only” apartment-for-rent ads in the Toronto area, they said it’s out of their hands.
Earlier this summer, the OHRC was clearly short of real work to do, so it started creeping through apartment rental ads online â€” cyberstalking is what some people might call it. It was appalled by severely normal things landlords were saying.
They came up with an official list of illegal words to use in apartment ads. “Perfect apartment for a student” is illegal. Seriously â€” that’s one of the examples from the OHRC website. It said that’s age discrimination. Calling your apartment an “adult building?” Illegal. “Perfect for female student”. Illegal.
This summer, the OHRC threatened landlords and even the websites that advertised these “discriminatory” words. But reporter Sarah Boesveld was poking around the website Kijiji.ca and found 32 apartments that say “only Muslims need apply.” She called up the human rights commission … which said it’s out of its hands.
Now, a part of private property is the right to choose who gets to come on it â€” no matter what your reason is. Think of the middle-aged male who wants to move into a sorority house. But that right goes further â€” including the right to exclude people for any reason at all. If you don’t like their personality, their annoying laugh, the colour of their eyes. And even the colour of their skin. That’s the point about private property: You have the right to be wrong â€” you even have the right to be racist.
We don’t like the idea of people being racist. “Muslims only” is another way of saying “no Jews allowed” or “no Christians allowed.” But it’s their property, not ours. If people don’t like it, they can have a little picket outside the property, on the street. A restaurant that discriminated that way might soon lose the business of fair-minded customers. But there is a market for some kinds of discrimination.
Take women-only fitness clubs. Surely they have the right to discriminate against men. Surely the Black Students Society can only allow blacks in. Surely a movie theatre can charge kids less than adults.Discrimination is something we do every day â€” it’s really another word for choosing. Sometimes people make choices for odious reasons. That’s the price of freedom â€” and it’s a far lower price to pay than the costs of having a government so invasive that it can barge its way into every wrinkle of our lives, including our own homes.
I’m not for prosecuting these 32 Muslims-only landlords. If they want someone who follows their religion â€” for example, who won’t bring pork or alcohol into the house, and who will respect their religious traditions â€” that’s fine.
But the Ontario Human Rights Commission doesn’t believe in property rights or freedom of association. They believe in counterfeit rights â€” like the right not to be offended. Except, of course, if the person doing the offending is Muslim, and the people being offended are Jews and Christians and Sikhs and Hindus and atheists.
There’s a word for people like those at the OHRC who have different standards for different religions: Bigots.
Â We have a right to free speech
The dubious idea that human rights commissions should be able to tell Canadians what they can and cannot say is now subject to two important challenges.
One is the case before the Supreme Court involving William Whatcott, who distributed odious anti-gay flyers in Saskatchewan nearly a decade ago. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission fined him $17,500; that decision was overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, and the case has now made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Whatcott’s flyers, T-shirts and posters are offensive, disgusting and wrong. Â (No, they’re not. Whattcot is entitled to his opinions and his beliefs)
- ‘More protection’ needed in hate speech cases: lawyer
- Case pitting gay rights against religious freedom reaches Supreme Court
But the right to free speech is meaningless if it only applies to inoffensive statements, politely expressed. It is the clash of wrong ideas against right ones – not their suppression – that improves our civilization and our democracy. Canadians must be free to disagree on every subject. There is a right to free speech in this country; there is no right not to be offended, and there never should be.
Laws against inciting violence – like laws against conspiracy or libel – are reasonable, tightly defined limits to speech, in cases where the speech itself creates a demonstrable harm.
By contrast, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code prohibits any publication “that exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground.”
And Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits telecommunication of “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.”
In practice, and thanks to some clarification from the courts, the application of these vague prohibitions has been tightened somewhat. But the fundamental problem remains, that quasi-judicial panels are able to chill any form of expression they deem hateful.
There is a bill before the House of Commons now that would make several changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act, including the repeal of Section 13. It is a private member’s bill, but the member in question is Brian Storseth, an Alberta Conservative, and there is reason to hope that he will be able to convince a majority of MPs to support it.
The arguments of homophobes are easy enough to demolish in the open, using facts and sense. There’s no need to drive such arguments underground. Expose them to the light and they wither.