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Playing Fast and Loose With Definitions

Tr Wh Fortunately, unlike criminal violations, systemic discrimination was a rapidly disappearing problem. It is arguable whether the Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals had much of an effect on this; racial discrimination was rapidly rising to the forefront of social conscience in the decades before any legislation was put in place.

ue human rights violations are serious business. ether it is the systematic segregation and state-sponsored discrimination of blacks in the southern United States, the denial of property rights to women, the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1950’s Quebec, or the quotas on Jewish students in turn-of-the-century universities, the impact on the victims can be life-changing.

en the Human Rights Acts were first instituted, they were a well-intentioned, if misguided, attempt to rectify serious incidents of discrimination that the framers observed around them. It was a time in history when society in general was waking up, in a big way, to its own bigotry, racism, and intolerance.

Fortunately, unlike criminal violations, systemic discrimination was a rapidly disappearing problem. It is arguable whether the Human Rights Commissions and ibunals had much of an effect on this; racial discrimination was rapidly rising to the forefront of social conscience in the decades before any legislation was put in place. Either way, the experience of the last few decades has permanently imprinted on almost everyone a natural revulsion to racism and other overt forms of discrimination.

But some have used this new social consciousness for their own ends. Those in the Human Rights ibunals, seeing their power decline as complaints decreased, interpreted the Codes more and more expansively as time wore on so that complainants would be emboldened to launched complaints. The Commissions changed the definitions of words to create entire new categories of discrimination, by which they could continue to claim that their work was even more urgently needed than ever. Special interest advocates began to redefine their own cause as a human rights issue. There is one thing common among all of these – a change, gradual or sudden, of the meaning of words.

Recently, in a speech about international law at York University, Phillip Dufresne of the Canadian Human Rights Commission made a startling redefinition. His topic was the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but recognized that he was giving his speech on International Womens’ Day. “Women could also be counted as persons with disabilities”, he was reported as saying, “given that they are often at a disadvantage.”

Besides being a ridiculous assertion, Mr. Dufresne’s redefinition of what it means to be disabled does a disservice to those who truly face challenges because of their physical or mental disabilities. One group suffers to exalt another. Indeed, this is what is actually happening behind the scenes in the Human Rights system; individuals purporting to represent different groups jockeying for recognition, influence, and ultimately, power.

Don’t be fooled by the constant self-serving redefinition of terms.

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