Casual observers of the news can be forgiven for seeing economy, environment and infrastructure as the most important issues in this year's provincial election.
Though I've played a role in making those topics into issues, I think human rights ought to figure as a sticking point for voters leading up to May 12. Human rights, I should say, or misconceptions thereof.
I'm speaking, of course, about the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT), a semi-judicial body that operates at arms-length from government. It was created in 1996 under the auspices of the B.C. Human Rights Code, legislation that sought to create a "climate of understanding and mutual respect" as well as "prevent discrimination" within the province.
In essence, the tribunal allows people to combat discrimination without having to seek redress through B.C.'s prohibitive judicial system.
As a complainant, you don't have to pay for a lawyer and the costs of the process are essentially downloaded on to the respondent. You can go to the tribunal if you feel an employer or landlord has discriminated against you on the basis of factors such as race, religion, marital status, disability or sexual orientation, among other things.
Laudable goals, all of them - except that the people adjudicating these tribunals have made decisions that even Soviet lawyers would find laughable.
I have elsewhere written of Beena Datt, a 23-year McDonald's employee with a skin condition that made it painful to wash her hands. The fast food restaurant made numerous attempts to accommodate her, but being in the business of serving food, it needs to adhere to the strictest health standards. So it let her go because she couldn't wash her hands enough.
BCHRT Tribunal member Judy Parrack disagreed. She wrote that the company wasn't innovative enough in accommodating her, and ordered McDonald's to pay her $50,000.
Try to imagine the impact of this ruling. You're scarfing down a Quarter Pounder. Suddenly you realize you're eating something that's been handled by an employee who's dipped their hands in oil and McChicken sauce. They haven't washed their hands because the tribunal said they didn't have to.
Who would you sue? The restaurant or the tribunal that forced this health hazard upon you?
It just gets worse. Other rulings have ordered Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter to pay $7,500 to Kim Nixon, a male-to-female transsexual who was denied work as a rape counselor when it was discovered she didn't share the life experiences of the women she'd be counseling - namely, growing up as a woman.
The tribunal ordered the shelter to pay her the money for "hurt feelings." The process in total cost the organization about $100,000, and that's with lawyers doing pro bono work, meaning they didn't even charge hourly fees.
Newspaper stories about these rulings often show complainants standing with arms folded in front of the Goliath employers they're taking on. It's a sickening image, given that the process is stacked completely against the alleged giants.
The most confounding decision by the tribunal hasn't been a ruling, per se. It was the boneheaded decision to hear a complaint that had been filed in three separate jurisdictions against Maclean's Magazine for publishing an excerpt of a book by Mark Steyn.
The complaint was filed on behalf of an organization whose leader has said that Hezbollah is a legitimate political party. In essence he went from justifying terrorism to censoring free speech.
To its credit, the tribunal didn't convict the magazine, but it nevertheless dragged them through a faux-judicial process that cost them thousands of dollars in legal fees. The complainant didn't pay a cent.
All these and more can be found in Ezra Levant's Shakedown , which is reviewed in this week's paper.
The world's media has focused on this issue, but still it seems to have been lost on the participants in this election.
What do B.C.'s major parties have to say about it? The B.C. Liberal platform says nothing about the BCHRT. Nor does the "Green Book." The Conservative Party of B.C. wants to make complainants responsible for legal fees and to disallow cases dealing with free speech, but they're not even running candidates in every riding.
The NDP? They want to expand the tribunal by creating a Human Rights Commission and "enhancing preventative actions such as community anti-racism and discrimination programs."
Instead of rooting out real discrimination, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has served as an avenue to impose a prohibitive, hyper-liberal agenda upon British Columbians. It has enshrined in B.C.'s human rights precedent the right not to wash your hands; to counsel rape victims even if they don't want to talk to you; and to bully journalists into apologies through lengthy, unnecessary processes.
There's plenty of issues to focus on in this election. But the punishing process of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal isn't one that should be ignored.
British Columbians ought to get incensed about it and trigger an angry debate among the politicians vying to represent us. If they don't, then this semi-Soviet court will continue to run rampant over people's lives.