Ikponwosa Ero, research and advocacy officer for Under The Same Sun in Surrey, British Columbia, Tuesday March 27, 2012
Credits: CARMINE MARINELLI/QMI AGENCY
Canadians are truly fortunate for many reasons. But an unfortunate side effect of our privileged position is many Canadians have lost the understanding of true human rights.
Provincial human rights commissions are supposed to protect citizens from genuine acts of discrimination. But all too often they act as misguided enforcers for the easily offended - a forum for people who seek out anything remotely controversial and warp basic human disagreements into human rights violations.
Take restaurant chain Earls and its Albino Rhino beer, sold in 50 locations across Canada and the US. Albino rhinos actually do exist. So do albino lions, birds, dolphins and reptiles; they have in common the condition where there is no pigment in the skin, increasing sun sensitivity.
But it was the extreme sensitivity of a human albino, Ikponwosa Ero, that has caused a lot of problems for Earls. Ero complained that Earls didn't understand that it was "demeaning and humiliating for their condition to be featured on a menu item." She went to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. Earl's caved to the politically correct plaintiffs.
Suppose I made a beer and called it "Bucky Beaver." That's just plain insensitive to those who suffer from "overjet" - buck teeth.
How about something like "Hairy Monkey"? That would drive people with hypertrichosis - excessive body hair - into a deep depression.
There's a lot more at stake here than a brand of beer. The victory over Earls' Albino Rhino is only the most recent example of how human rights commissions can empower even a single person to infringe on the freedoms of everyone else. These cases not only inhibit us but they can also harm us.
When Beena Datt, a McDonald's employee, claimed she had developed a skin condition and could no longer wash her hands to restaurant standards, McDonald's ended up letting her go, after searching for a solution. What happened? The BC Human Rights Tribunal ruled McDonald's had to pay Datt $23,000 for lost income, $25,000 for lost dignity plus all her legal fees and rehab experts. Then to top it all off, the tribunal ordered McDonald's to stop discriminating against people who can't wash their hands!
In Alberta, the provincial human rights commission awarded Ruby Repas $5,000 after fighting for her right to work in a restaurant while infected with hepatitis.
Then there's the customs officer who successfully sued her employer to work on the schedule she wanted as a young parent. Forcing an organization of thousands to bend beyond reason to the whims of one employee.
There's Faith McGregor, the woman who, when a muslim barber didn't want to cut her hair, complained to the Ontario human rights tribunal for the right to get a haircut from whomever she wants.
And the father who went to Newfoundland's human rights commission because he thought minor league hockey ice time favoured girls over boys. And Patricia Howson in Ottawa, who went to the human rights tribunal in pursuit of the human right to convenient parking.
These aren't rights, they're complaints. They'd truly be laughable if they didn't waste a lot of our tax dollars, and the valuable time of the people who get dragged into these kangaroo courts.