Margaret Sutherland’s piece Emperor Haute Couture–a riff on the Emperor’s New Clothes, starring Stephen Harper as emperor, apparently violated Albertan Curtis Stewart’s sensibilities to such a degree that he filed a human rights complaint, which has been dismissed by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on the grounds that the Application is outside of the Tribunal’s power to decide on the matter.
Alas, the coverage of the matter, both in the decision (which points to the procedural provision that gives a person the right to file an application on the basis of a right violated under Part I of the code) and in the media, do not specify which right under Part I of the code Mr. Stewart felt had been so egregiously violated by the work.
In one sense, this kind of thing irks me somewhat–that valuable resources are being used in dealing with this kind of complaint. But, on the other hand, I suppose we’re lucky–that we have human rights code (and a Charter, for that matter); that we have a Tribunal to administer it; that we have recourse for violations and ways in which to ensure that the rights we so value are respected. That claims that are as dubious as this are being filed speaks to the idea of accessibility. There’s sufficiently widespread awareness and penetration of the idea of our rights, in the psyches of the people who live in this country that they will speak out when they feel their rights have been infringed upon (even if it’s not clear to many of us which right, precisely, has apparently been violated). For all its flaws, i feel this is a good thing. I also believe that in order for the human rights tribunal system to be accessible to those who truly need it, it will, by extension, also be accessible to those who are filing these Emperor’s New Clothes type complaints. If pressed, I will admit that I’d rather this be the case, than have the thresholds raised to the point that those who might genuinely have grievances cannot access the system (as is often the case in the court system).
And indeed, the citizens of so many other countries aren’t so fortunate, in their ability to bring any kind of complaints at all–and in the likelihood that even these sorts of frivolities masquerading as rights violations would be quashed–and harshly. Here, at least, people have the freedom to voice dissent–and then other people have the freedom to complain about the way in which the dissent has been voiced. And if, after all that, there is a genuine complaint to be deliberated over, we have the apparatus to deal with that complaint and provide remedy.