Now, keep in mind this will be licensed producer cannabis, as any other is still considered illegal. Regardless, for a system that has no problem prescribing opioids, it was beyond insulting that Gordon “Wayne” Skinner had to fight to get his medical cannabis covered.
Yet before we go out and celebrate, we should remember that this is a double-edged sword, a decision with both positive and negative aspects.
The positive side being, obviously, that, at least in Nova Scotia, medical cannabis is covered under insurance plans. The negative aspect is less obvious.
Skinner fought for his coverage by using a human rights board.
Now, Skinner’s case was confined to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, accountable to the provincial Department of Justice.
Federally, there is a Canadian Human Rights Commission that is not without controversy. Although I applaud Skinner’s win and hope it sets a precedent for others, these human rights commissions aren’t something to commemorate.
In June 2008, the National Postpublished an editorial which criticized Canada’s Human Rights Commissions. They wrote: “It is increasingly obvious these commissions were set up deliberately to lower the standard of proof and get around rules of natural justice, thereby ensuring people who would never be convicted in court are punished to the satisfaction of the activists and special interest groups that hover around the tribunals.”
Right-wing media personality Ezra Levant has been targeted by the Human Rights Commission, calling the Alberta board “crazy.” He was referring to the fact that the province’s engineering exam was ruled to have “discriminated” against an immigrant who took the test and failed it three times. The human rights board ordered Alberta’s engineers to pay the immigrant $10,000 and to lower their examination standards.
Remember that next time you’re crossing a bridge.
The Commission has also ruled in favour of “hurt feelings” as justification for monetary compensation.
Mary Agnes Welch, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists has stated that human rights commissions “were never meant to act as language nannies. The current system allows complainants to chill the speech of those they disagree with by entangling targets in a human rights bureaucracy that doesn’t have to operate under the same strict rules of defense as a court.”
Justice is supposed to be blind, but for human rights commissions, rights depend on race, sex, and culture. Truth is not a defense, hearsay is admitted, taxpayers fund the plaintiff but not the defendant, normal standards for assessing the validity of evidence do not apply, third parties not involved in the alleged offenses may file complaints regardless, and plaintiffs are sometimes given access to the commissions’ investigation files and given the power to direct investigators.
Fortunately, in 2013, Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act was repealed, limiting the power of the human rights commission.
But much of that power still remains, especially for provincial bodies. Last year, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal ordered comedian Mike Ward to pay $42,000 to Jérémy Gabriel and his mother. Compensation, says the tribunal, for being the butt of several of his jokes.
It’s understandable that many will want to celebrate this win for medical cannabis. Others may even want to use the human rights commission for their own ends.
But with a history of suppressing free speech, as well as controversy regarding admissibility of evidence, we must ask ourselves if it’s worth it.