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									      Revisiting Canada’s Human Rights Commissions:
                    A Public Symposium
                               A Public Policy Forum event
                                  Tuesday, June 3, 2008
                                   8:30 am – 12:30 pm
                                     Ottawa, Ontario


The Public Policy Forum (PPF) proposes to organize and host a symposium featuring
dialogue and debate about Canada’s Human Rights Commissions .


Human Rights Commissions (HRCs) across Canada are empowered to investigate and
settle complaints related to human rights legislation. These commissions are quasi-
judicial organizations where individuals or groups who feel their human rights have been
violated may make representations to experts and seek recourse and compensation.

In addition, HRCs are mandated to work proactively with employers, service providers,
individuals, unions, and governmental and non-governmental organizations to foster
understanding and commitment to equality.

Recently, HRCs have come under intense scrutiny as the result of two cases involving
published material and perceived harm to Canada’s Muslim communities. Ezra Levant
and Mark Steyn have found themselves before the Alberta and Canadian commissions
respectively. Whether or not they anticipated it, HRCs have become embroiled in a
debate about freedom of speech in Canada, and the role of the state in situations where
offence is perceived as a violation of human rights.

The debate signals the need to explore several aspects of HRCs, including the following:

   1. The mandates given to HRCs by existing legislation and by convention;
   2. How HRCs execute their mandates, and the effectiveness of those procedures;
   3. Their role in Canadian society, including their impacts upon the private and
      corporate sectors.

The Public Policy Forum believes it is necessary to consider the recent “free speech”
morass, but it is equally important to consider these high-profile incidents in the context
of the other work that HRCs do, and how they do it. Indeed, fully 70% of complaints
before the Canadian HRC are employment-related, whereas hate speech complaints
register less than 5% of the types of allegations signed by complainants.1

Rather than dismiss HRCs as “thought police” as many commentators have recently
done, the Public Policy Forum proposes to locate the free speech debate in a broader
conversation about the resources, mandates, and effectiveness of HRCs as components of
Canada’s commitment to human rights and equality.

Proposed agenda

8:30 am         Coffee, continental breakfast, and registration

9:00 am         Opening remarks and welcome
                Jodi White, President, Public Policy Forum

9:15 am         Opening Keynote Address
                Jennifer Lynch, QC
                Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission (invited)

10:00 am        Expert Panel: Human Rights Commissions under the microscope

                Panellists will discuss the mandate, design and purpose of HRCs. The
                panel will look at the challenge of moving Canadian society in the
                direction of greater respect for individual and group human rights, and will
                consider whether the HRC is an appropriate tool for that policy goal.

                The panel will feature a moderator and 3-4 experts, and will address the
                following questions:

                   What is the relationship between HRCs and legislative bodies?
                   What are the various mechanisms through which complaints may be
                   What kind of balance needs to be struck between the need for
                    employment equity and the potential for abuse of the system?
                   What does the “free speech / free press” episode demonstrate about the
                    role of HRCs in our society?

11:15 am        Break

 See the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s 2006 Annual Report, p.7. Available at http://www.chrc-
11:30 am   Pundit’s Pit

           This session will feature intellectual debate about the role of HRCs in
           particular, and the state in general in addressing discrimination, hate
           speech, and human rights violations in Canadian society.

           Possible participants:
           Moderator: Rex Murphy (invited)
           Pundit v. Pundit: Ezra Levant v. Warren Kinsella. (invited)

12:30 am   Adjourn

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