"Perhaps the CHRC's recent bad publicity will embolden people to ask whether these agencies have outlived their usefulness. Perhaps it will encourage legislators to cut back their swollen budgets." — Ian Hunter
Toronto Globe and Mail | May 23, 2001
Equality's bloated bureaucracy | Ian Hunter
Preserving human rights has become a religion, says law professor IAN
HUNTER. Which helps explain the mess at the CHRC
The Canadian Human Rights Commission, an agency that usually hungers for
the limelight, has recently come in for unwelcome scrutiny and unfavourable
An internal report indicated deep job dissatisfaction among its 230
employees. Some disgruntled workers allege a "poisoned work environment";
others complain of spiteful, belittling management; still others claim
sexual discrimination in hiring and promotions — the very conduct the
commission is mandated to eliminate. The Globe and Mail reported that 40
per cent of the commission's staff had quit their jobs in the last 12
months; 37 per cent of the current staff were hoping to quit soon.
This was met by a general clearing of editorial throats; huffing about how
unfortunate it all is, the importance of the commission's work, the
necessity of righting the ship, etc. The Globe editorialized: "It is tragic
that an organization devoted to protecting workers' rights has managed to
so alienate and frustrate its own staff. The commission has a valuable role
to play in protecting Canada's workers, but staff are being distracted from
this mandate. The internal strife is leaving too many victims waiting too
long for assistance and justice."
I wish to suggest that the commission has become a useless excrescence and
that nothing would so become it (and its provincial counterparts) as a
quick, unlamented demise. When the human-rights commissions were first set
up, they often claimed that their objective was to work for the day when
they would no longer be needed; well, that day has long since arrived, so
good riddance to them.
Along with the (late) Justice Walter Tarnopolsky, in the 1970s I was one of
the outside consultants to the federal Department of Justice on the
drafting of the Canadian Human Rights Act. What the government of the day
envisaged was a modest investigative agency that would deal quickly and
equitably with complaints of employment discrimination arising within the
federal public service, within Crown agencies, or against private-sector
employers subject to federal regulation.
What they got instead was a self-important, bloated bureaucracy whose
cumbersome investigations move at glacial pace. What they got were managers
who considered their status roughly equivalent to Kofi Annan.
One of the criticisms made in the internal report is that the current
commission chair, Michelle Falardeau-Ramsay, spends too much time on
foreign junkets; Ms. Falardeau-Ramsay returned prematurely from Indonesia,
where she had been advising on East Timor, to deny this unfounded
So where did human-rights commissions go wrong?
What was it that transformed agencies intended to protect working people
against unjustified discrimination into the thought police of the nanny
state, despised almost as much by those they are intended to assist as by
those they proceed against?
Well, somewhere in the early 1980s, the commissions lost their raison
d'être; instead of eliminating discrimination, they decided on a course of
social engineering to bring about equality.
The 1981 legislative amendments to the Ontario Human Rights Code were
typical, and were quickly emulated by other jurisdictions. These amendments
introduced "affirmative action" (reverse discrimination to achieve a
predetermined result); in place of "equality of opportunity," they
substituted "equality of result"; they changed relatively clear statutory
prohibitions ("Thou shalt not discriminate" in specified areas such as
housing and employment) into vague declarations of a right to "equal
To criticize human-rights legislation, its premises or its enforcers, came
to be regarded as socially unacceptable — antediluvian at best, at worst
racist. To speak against human rights is to blaspheme against Equality, the
accepted orthodoxy of our age.
Perhaps the CHRC's recent bad publicity will embolden people to ask whether
these agencies have outlived their usefulness. Perhaps it will encourage
legislators to cut back their swollen budgets. Perhaps it will keep Ms.
Falardeau-Ramsay away from the Ottawa airport.
Perhaps, but I doubt it. The appeal of human rights is essentially
theological in nature. In contemporary society, the quest for equality is
an emaciated version of past centuries' yearning for God. The religious
vision of Heaven, a land beyond time and mortality and very far off, has
been replaced by a utopian vision of an egalitarian society, to be obtained
through charters, human-rights commissions and legislated behaviour.
Nearly two centuries ago, the prescient Alexis de Tocqueville recognized
the essentially theological appeal of the concept of Equality; he predicted
that the democratic pursuit of equality would ultimately destroy liberty.
In Democracy in America, de Tocqueville wrote: "Democratic communities have
a natural taste for freedom: left to themselves they will seek it, cherish
it, and view any deprivation of it with regret. But for equality their
passion is ardent, insatiable, incessant, invincible: They call for
equality in freedom; and if they cannot obtain that, they still call for
equality in slavery."
Next time Ms. Falardeau-Ramsay is queuing up at the airport ticket counter,
she might profitably ponder de Tocqueville's words.
Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the faculty of law at the
University of Western Ontario. He consulted on the drafting of the Canadian
Human Rights Act.
Originally at www.freedomsite.org/pipermail/fs_announce/2001/000555.html