Canada’s human rights industry and the hierarchy of victims

Canada’s human rights commissions and tribunals have embraced identity politics to forge a grievance industry. This industry has now reached its inevitable standoff.

Two identity groups—each one protected by the government’s human rights code—see their purported rights as at odds with the other’s. Standing between them is the province of Ontario’s human rights regime.

A Toronto woman, Kristi Hanna, has filed a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario complaint against a shelter for women struggling with addiction, after she was forced to share a room with a transgender woman.

Hanna, a sexual abuse survivor who describes herself as an “active ally in the LGBTQ community,” asked the Human Rights Legal Support Centre for help. She explained that she was forced to room with, in her words, a “man,” while grappling with her trauma.

The government-funded center, tasked with helping disenfranchised people navigate the human rights tribunal, defended the shelter and chided Hanna for taking issue with the situation.

Hanna had been staying at the shelter for seven months, but lasted only two nights after the transgender resident moved into the bed just five feet away from her, in July. Two nights of “constantly looking over to make sure her roommate was still in bed,” that is.

She’s been homeless ever since.

The Jean Tweed Centre, which operates the shelter, was adamant that it doesn’t discriminate against transgender residents and therefore “does not impose modifications with respect to accommodation.”

The transgender resident was presumably at the shelter for the same reason Hanna was—to get help. But only one could.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, an agency under “Social Justice Tribunals Ontario,” which exists to protect the disadvantaged—from women to racial minorities to those with differing gender identities—now must decide whose rights trump whose.

Should an abused woman have to shack up with someone sharing the biological sex of her abuser?

This case is the embodiment of the tense battle between two strains of feminism. But this isn’t an abstract gender studies debate—it’s real life.

The human rights industry’s worldview dictates that all must be accommodated, and that feeling unsafe means being unsafe. There is no right answer here.

If this isn’t an existential crisis-in-the-making for progressives, surely another Ontario case is.

In Windsor, Ont., the Mad Wax hair removal spa is facing a $50,000 human rights complaint for not booking a Brazilian wax appointment for a transgender woman. The spa isn’t equipped to do lower body waxes for men, the owner tried to explain. More pressingly, the only waxologist on duty was a devout Muslim woman, whose religion forbids physical contact with men other than her husband.

The Islamic view of gender identity hasn’t quite caught up with the Ontario Human Rights Code’s.

The spa owner, who prides himself as being pro-LGBT, had to choose between his desire for an open and inclusive business for his customers, and one for his employees.

Forcing the employee to wax male genitals surely would have brought its own human rights complaint. He tried explaining this to the transgender person, to no avail.

“Women have penises and women have balls, and if your staff is not comfortable, then they can look for another job,” the prospective client told him.

I’m pretty sure that’s the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s motto, actually.

The easy solution would be to allow private businesses and agencies to set their own boundaries, much like the American Supreme Court ruled they should earlier this summer. In Canada, human rights law bars those sorts of decisions.

Radical feminism versus intersectional feminism, and Islam versus transgender. Canada’s human rights commissions, which thrive on victimhood, now must recognize a hierarchy of victims.

These are the questions society never thought would need answers, but here they are.

I’ve been a long-time critic of the way the governments in Canada have industrialized so-called human rights but there’s no schadenfreude on my part with these cases. They should give lawmakers cause to recognize how farcical these human rights commissions and tribunals have become, but I don’t expect this reckoning.

I doubt Hanna will win her case, as the Ontario Human Rights Commission has repeatedly said no business or institution can deny treatment in accordance with one’s preferred gender.

This was tested in 2014 when British blogger Avery Edison settled a human rights complaint against the Ontario government after being detained in a men’s jail, despite identifying as a woman.

Irrespective of vulnerability that led Hanna to the shelter in the first place, she’s a white woman—just a half notch beneath white men on the emerging hierarchy of marginalization.

How the religious freedom of Muslims stacks up against a transgender person’s right to get their genitals waxed, while more comedic, is sure to be a more interesting case.

A Brazilian wax wouldn’t be the average person’s hill to die on, but when the state insists no perceived injustice is too small for its intervention, this is the painful outcome—literally.

Think Canada needs more gun control? Think again

Anyone arguing Canada is in need of further gun control has clearly never attempted to buy a gun there.

Yet, in the wake of the tragic shooting last month on Toronto’s Danforth Ave., there’s a contingent pushing for exactly that. Toronto’s city council passed a motion calling on the federal and provincial governments to ban the sales of handguns and their ammunition, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t ruling out such a proposal.

It was with great frustration that I read University of Toronto professor Jooyoung Lee’s op-ed in the New York Times urging Canada to “reflect on whether handguns ought to be banned.”

Prof. Lee cites a report that 62 per cent of gun-related homicides are committed with handguns, but omits the fact that the majority of guns used in crimes in Canada are illegally owned.

This includes the handgun used by Toronto shooter Faisal Hussain, whose older brother has ties to a street gang and was charged with several drug and weapons offences in 2015.

A handgun ban wouldn’t have stopped Hussain from getting or using his gun. Those who say otherwise don’t know how strict the rules already are.

There is no Canadian version of the second amendment; the government views gun ownership as a privilege, not a right.

Buying a typical rifle or shotgun requires a license granted by the government only to those who have gone through a number of steps, including passing the firearms safety course’s written and practical exams, clearing background and reference checks, and approval by the Chief Firearms Officer.

Mental health, job losses, divorces and bankruptcies are all factored into applications.

Owning a handgun, or other firearms classified as restricted (such as AR-15 models), requires a harder-to-get license that invites even more scrutiny and oversight from the government, including an assessment of why you want handguns. Generally, collecting and sport shooting are the only valid reasons.

As a collector, you can’t take your guns anywhere. As a sport shooter, your license can be revoked if you aren’t’ a member of a certified gun range.

Police run daily background checks on licensed owners, and can perform warrantless home inspections to ensure storage regulations are being followed.

You won’t find a loaded gun in the nightstands or glove compartments of Canada’s law-abiding gun owners.

At home, handguns must be locked, unloaded and secured separately from ammunition. When in transit, you must take the most direct route from home to the range or gunsmith or back. Even innocent slip-ups can mean criminal charges.

The only ones impacted by a handgun ban are those like me who work hard to stay within the laws—not the people who are actually committing crimes with guns.

American gun owners are likely in shock by this. Despite my frustration with several of the restrictions that don’t enhance public safety, I concede that the system is effective in weeding out those who pose a risk to themselves or others.

But as the Toronto shooting shows, this won’t stop someone hellbent on committing an act of violence from getting their hands on a weapon.

The calls to ban handguns ignore the lack of correlation between lawful gun ownership and gun crime.

Between 2004 and 2015, the number of legally owned restricted guns doubled, yet firearm-related homicides remained fairly constant—and even dropped, some years—in the same timeframe.

Toronto had a surge in shootings in 2005—mostly gang related. At the time, police said 70 per cent of guns used were smuggled from the United States. In the years since, the Canada Border Services Agency has reported increases in illegal weapons seizures.

Trudeau has pledged to look at how jurisdictions around the world have dealt with gun control. It’s important to look at all violent crimes, not just those which involve firearms.

In countries with incredibly strict gun control, like the United Kingdom and Australia, the results have hardly been as idyllic as advocates like to make out.

Knife crime in the UK has filled a void in the country’s cities. After firearms were effectively banned in 1997, homicides actually increased for five years, and only started to drop in 2002, mirroring an overall trend in Western nations that existed irrespective of gun control.

Australia’s sweeping gun confiscation, enacted in the 1990s by former prime minister John Howard as a kneejerk reaction to a mass shooting a year earlier, hasn’t deterred a steady increase in gun crimes. In fact, firearm offences have gone up by 250 per cent since 2011.

The challenges would be all the greater for Canada, which shares with the United States the world’s longest unprotected border.

If Australia, a literal island thousands of miles from the United States, can’t stop the illegal importation of American guns, I can’t fathom a world where Canada fares much better.

A new chapter

After leaving the wonderful world of daily talk radio in March, the question I’ve been fielding more than any other is, “What’s next?”

The timing made it possible for me to jump into an initiative I had already been heavily considering—a run for office. I put all other projects and possibilities on hold for my (unsuccessful) campaign, which ended on June 7th. Since then, I’ve been very quiet as I plan my next moves.

It has been a whirlwind of a few months, but I am thrilled about where I am right now. I’m at a point in my life where I have the editorial freedom and flexibility to not only work across platforms, but also tackle the issues and stories I think are the most important.

As I’ve weighed my options, these have remained priorities.

There is a common theme to much, if not most, of my work on the radio and in columns—the championing of democracy and freedom.

I’m delighted to announce on this Canada Day that I’m starting a fellowship at the True North Initiative, a fantastic think tank devoted to the preservation of liberty and sound immigration policy in Canada, kicking off Monday, July 2 with a live broadcast on Facebook—something I’ll be doing weekly, in addition to creating other content.

I will continue to write columns for a variety of publications as a freelancer, and will be able to take on more speaking engagements across North America (which you can inquire about here).

I’ll also be keeping the blog here updated with appearances, published work, and some original columns as well.

This is a new chapter for me, but an exciting one. I’m so grateful to have you on the journey with me!

“Go kill yourself”: How social media mobs are hurting democracy

When the emotions of politics and the impetuousness of social media fuse, the result isn’t pretty. Social media, which can be a cesspool at the best of times, morphs into something unrecognizable during elections.

It may look like noise to an outsider, but when your name is the one in the line of fire, it comes at a cost.

During a brief stint as a politician this spring, I had a front row seat to my own dehumanization, when, as a PC candidate in Ontario’s June 7 election, my social media history made headlines.

I went viral—and not in the charming toddler-crashes-BBC-interview or Chewbacca-mom-laughs sort of way. My Twitter mentions were so voluminous that my phone’s battery drained in record time.

Just try to imagine that quantity. Now understand that almost every incoming tweet was negative.

The anger was directed at a slew of long-deleted postings I made nearly a decade ago. Most were ill-advised attempts at humour. With some, I couldn’t even figure out what I was getting at. I chock them up to an unfortunate combination of mental illness, immaturity and a general recklessness at that point in my life that extended far beyond Twitter.

People can decide for themselves whether they believe I’m a different person than the one depicted in those years-old snapshots. What I take issue with are the digital vigilantes—digilantes, if you will—who so cruelly and viciously attack others for being unkind on the internet, ignorant of their own hypocrisy.

A few messages still stand out.

“Do the world a favour and go kill yourself asap,” Kyle from Owen Sound ordered me. When I hadn’t heeded his request a few weeks later, he followed up.

“Seriously, like tonight would be a great night to do us all a favour and fucking end yourself you slime ball.”

On the suicide-wisher’s Facebook page was an adorable photo of him reading to two young children who were seated on his lap. I hope he wouldn’t read a message like this in the vicinity of the children—so why send it to a perfect stranger?

“I feel bad for your heart that it failed on you. Hope on the next round you don’t pull through. Fuck you asshole,” wrote Lou from Toronto.

“I hope you get gang raped,” said Ben, adding, “You don’t deserve the oxygen you breathe. Do us all a favor, let that mental illness take hold and KILL YOURSELF.”

Most of the messages were tamer of course, composed not of death wishes, but of a tired rotation of fat jokes or musing about my wife’s and my sex life. Some dedicated trolls harassed my friends and family directly, which was harder for me to stomach than what was pointed at me.

Consistent in almost all was a nastiness combined with a disinterest in genuine dialogue.

Before the crocodile tears come, know that I’m not shrouding myself in victimhood. I share these for the sake of others, be they politicians or otherwise, who aren’t able to brush off such venom.

Had I been subjected to this volume and tone of messages six or seven years ago, I would be hanging from a bridge.

Whether those urging me to kill myself would have felt any remorse if I did is irrelevant—these comments are made with no sense of consequences, and without recognition of the target’s humanity.

When Twitter and Facebook users join the chorus, they surrender their individual voices in pursuit of a singular mob voice, seeking only to add gasoline to the inferno.

What’s one more tweet when there are already thousands, right? By the same token, you’ve got to know that your insulting tweet isn’t adding anything. It serves no other purpose than virtue signaling to your followers that you’re moral and hip for attacking whichever politician, celebrity or random sap it’s en vogue to hate that hour.

When we import this phenomenon into politics, democracy is threatened.

While free speech, which, yes, includes online nastiness, is paramount to democracy, voters are setting themselves up for failure by instating litmus tests no one can pass.

Especially now. As millennials come of age to seek political office, we near the point where every political candidate will have a social media history extending back to youth.

Everyone has uttered a regrettable word or two. Some had the forethought to not log them for the public record, mind you.

Regardless, every election of the last few years has had at least an entire week or two dominated by stories of who tweeted what, and when. In the 2018 election, I was the poster boy for social media missteps, but not the only example.

I distanced myself from words that don’t reflect who I am. While we should obviously be skeptical when a politician says anything, that also must include an understanding that past comments aren’t necessarily ironclad proof of one’s present character.

Maybe someone lashed out on social media because of a mental health battle, or cracked a lewd joke that seemed funny in the moment, or perhaps genuinely advocated something they no longer believe. If no genuine person could claim to have never evolved or grown in their lives, why should politicians be held to a different standard?

How or if they’ve conquered these mistakes is a better barometer than whether they exist in the first place.

If politicians must represent a population of real people with lived experience, we can’t scare off flawed, but qualified, people from seeking office, as the status quo does. Otherwise, we’re left only with the dynastic sorts who’ve been groomed for leadership from birth, a la Justin Trudeau.

This isn’t a call for censorship, but rather a plea for sensibility among those partaking in Canada’s national conversation on social media. If you don’t work to diminish the mob’s power, you may just become its target some day.