"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When I was an alleged 'enemy' of human rights

I was saddened to read in this morning's National Post that Jennifer Lynch, the former chair of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, had died at the age of only 63. I had known for a few years that she was ill, but news of her passing, especially at such a relatively young age, was still an unpleasant surprise.

One could say--and, indeed, I feel-- that her death closes the book on an era in Canadian public life
Jennifer Lynch photo in today's National Post.
that saw broadly defined human rights trump the more fundamental right of freedom of speech. This is because Lynch was the head of the CHRC at a time when it had the mandate to prosecute Canadian citizens for, essentially, hurting the feelings of other Canadians. Thankfully, Parliament finally removed that power last year, as the Post story describes.

I wrote often, not only in the Post, but also in the Report and Western Standard magazines, about the injustice of the CHRC's anti-free-speech powers. Most of my pieces dealt with broad philosophical and legal issues. But one, published in the fall of 2009, about the "enemies list" that Lynch said she kept, was particularly personal. Here is that Post op-ed:

When Jennifer Lynch, the prickly princess of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, revealed in an interview with this newspaper last June that she kept a file on the many critics of her renegade fiefdom, I have to admit that my first thought in response to the news was not that of a concerned citizen, outraged that a civil servant charged with protecting human rights was compiling some sort of Nixonian enemies list.

And I certainly wasn’t vexed over the potential adverse consequences, of being included on the enemies list, to high-profile CHRC critics such as Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn; no, they’re big boys and can certainly take care of themselves.

Rather, my first response was actually to hope that I, red-badge-of-courage like, would be named in her file. After all, I’ve been writing critically about the censorious nature of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act for more than a decade and I reasoned that if I hadn’t caught the evil eye of Ms. Lynch by now, one of my professional life’s great passions would somehow be diminished.

I needn’t have fretted because I am pleased to report today that, after submitting a freedom-of-information request over the summer, I am now in possession of a 49-page printout listing the contents of Ms. Lynch’s file, and that two articles bearing my byline are among the 1,001 news articles, columns, op-eds, editorials and blog entries which the Chief Commissioner has collected. Break out the champagne.

Actually, break out the champagne and a cheque for $62,840 because a certain Heather Throop, “Director General, Corporate Management Branch” (of the CHRC, I presume), informed me by way of registered mail that I would need to pay that amount to obtain information beyond a mere listing of the contents. Sadly, I don’t happen to have that sort of money lying around.

My FOI request had sought copies, not only of all the clippings and printouts in Ms. Lynch’s file, but also of any “notes, memos or correspondence” that Ms. Lynch or anyone else in the CHRC may have written that are “directly on any of the clippings or printouts, appended to any of the clippings or printouts, or placed in the aforementioned file.”

I asked for this because I figured that if Ms. Lynch were paranoid enough to maintain such a file (as she was) and then sloppy enough to reveal its existence (as she did), she might also have been angry enough to at least scrawl a telling comment or two on offending articles. I dreamed of uncovering handwritten notes such as, “We’ll watch this one—he’s in trouble!” or “I’ll let Richard know about this, for sure!” (“Richard” being CHRC attack dog Richard Warman.) Such information would surely embarrass the commissioner and, in doing so, would further advance the case against Section 13 and the CHRC.

Alas, Ms. Throop informed me in a three-page missive that any further digging by the CHRC to fulfill my request would entail e-mail searches, electronic records management system searches, typing and reading involving up to 100 employees and 6,284 hours of government time at $10 per hour, hence the $62,840 figure, of which I was requested to immediately send half (or $31,420) to Ottawa to enable my request to proceed. Either that, or narrow my search and reduce the cost accordingly.

The fact that the CHRC wants to charge me for this FOI request puts me in somewhat the same precipitous boat as a defendant ensnared by the CHRC machinery: while a complainant’s every expense is covered by the CHRC, a defendant is forced to foot the bill on his own, and isn’t even allowed to collect costs if he successfully defends himself.

Bottom line: I won’t be digging into any of my RRSPs to further my search for truth and justice and I don’t care to censor my application, so I guess my exploration ends here. But my FOI request has at least accomplished several things, including confirming that Ms. Lynch’s list really does exist and that it contains, not just opinion pieces that are critical of the CHRC, but also news stories about the CHRC and human rights in general, a fact that suggests the commissioner is taking note of critics who are quoted in those news stories.

The entries, which are listed in reverse chronological order, begin with a June 29, 2009 editorial by the Montreal Gazette (“Rights commission threatens our liberty”) and end with a February 16, 2008 column by the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente (“Human Rights Commissions: A day at the theatre of the absurd…”).

In between, the titles and headlines reveal that Ms. Lynch has been keeping a close eye on both the national media (articles from this paper, for example, account for 16 percent of the entire file) and the regional press (in fact, one of the two entries under my name is of a column I wrote for a twice-weekly newspaper in suburban Vancouver).

One can only conclude that, 1984-like, Big Sister has been watching. And watching very closely, at that.


  1. Mr. O'Neill, would you post that 49-page list, if you haven't already?

  2. I speak only good of the dead. Jennifer Lynch is dead, good

  3. Hey Terry, was The Phantom on that list? It would be a giggle to know Big Jen had her eye on my tiny little blog.

  4. Hey, Michael Shaw: Her favourite legislation is dead too. That's better. Much better. You think there were no weasels left in Ottawa, who would gladly replace her?

    Now it matters a lot less whether they find themselves an energetic weasel or a lazy one.

  5. Thanks for the comments and feedback. I posted the full list -- after a laborious 2 hours of scanning each of the pages individually -- at www.roadkillradio.com, a webcast and news site with which I had a relationship at the time. The folks at RKR don't seem to have the link any longer, and I have lost the scanned files, so all I now have are the original paper pages. I don't think I'll be re-scanning, unless I come up with a big block of spare time. But i won't rule it out. Meanwhile, I do not recall seeing anything by The Phantom listed.
    Reminder: I'll be on Ezra Levant's SUN TV show on Friday (tomorrow), talking about this whole affair.