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William Turner

Human rights legislation is riddled with problems

In first year law school, I took a class on equality law, in which I defended the 2005 decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal which found the Knights of Columbus were allowed to refuse to host a lesbian wedding. The professor asked me sarcastically, “Is being a bigot a rational basis to limit equality rights?” My answer was and still is a definitive yes.I was reminded of this conversation by the latest decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in the protracted legal battle between Lorna Pardy and Guy Earle. Pardy is a lesbian and Earle a comedian. During a comedy show Earle verbally attacked Pardy and her companions when they heckled him. There was heavy drinking all around. But while Earle went home to sleep it off, Pardy laid a tax-funded complaint to the government.The British Columbia Supreme Court upheld the decision of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal awarding Pardy in excess of $20,000 against Earle and the comedy club owner. This case is a classic example of conflicting rights. Yet it seems courts and tribunals only pay lip service to the importance of fundamental civil liberties such as freedom of expression, when their unspoken agenda is to offer protection to groups perceived as disadvantaged – in this case lesbian women. When such charges are levelled, courts vehemently deny their bias, but their rulings disprove this denial.This approach to human rights is rooted in the misguided and incoherent notion of “substantive equality.” Don’t know what substantive equality is? Don’t feel bad, neither do the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada!While the overall goal of substantive equality of eliminating discrimination is laudable, the approach lacks objectivity and coherence. It places almost all weight on group disadvantage rather than fairness in individual cases. The greatest flaw… Read More