Conservative MP Garnett Genuis has proposed legislation to include “political belief or activity” as a protected category in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
“I do think political discrimination is a growing problem and there is some urgency to putting this forward,” he told The Epoch Times.
The legislation is aimed at the federally regulated sector, which includes banks and social media companies, both of which have been points of particular concern for political discrimination, Genuis said. Banks froze the accounts of Freedom Convoy supporters, and social media platforms are at the centre of political censorship debates.
Genuis said these private institutions are quasi-public, acting at the behest of the government.
“That gives you sort of the worst of both worlds,” he said. “You have the lack of autonomy that would normally exist in the private sector, but you have the lack of accountability that would normally exist in the public sector.”
Genuis said he’s not worried only about bank customers, for example, being discriminated against by the bank. He’s worried about employees at companies across the country being discriminated against by their employers.
He gave the high-profile example of well-known author, speaker, and psychologist Jordan Peterson being chastised by the College of Psychologists of Ontario for his social media posts on politically charged topics.
There are plenty of lower-profile cases too, Genuis said. “I’m worried about the everyday secretary, grocery clerk—the person who’s trying to get by and support their family and who feels vulnerable to employment-based discipline if they express certain political views on their personal time, on their personal channels.”
He said he aims to protect people on both sides of the political spectrum. He gave the hypothetical example of an oil worker active with a political party on the left. “I want to protect that person’s right as an employee to hold those views, even if those views may be contrary to the economic interests of their employer.”
Scope of the Problem
It’s hard to quantify the scope of this kind of problem. Two researchers reviewing all available data in Canada on private employees being disciplined for social media posts, for example, noted that they mostly only see cases where unions are involved and there’s arbitration.
“We don’t see a whole lot of cases coming through the courts,” said one of the researchers, University of Ottawa Communications Professor Daniel J. Paré, during a panel discussion in 2021. “A lot of folks who find themselves in this situation often are in precarious positions, so the idea of going to court and the expense that that incurs is [prohibitive].”
Charles Smith, a political studies professor at the University of Saskatchewan, added that they have seen anecdotal evidence, however, that this is happening quite often in non-unionized companies as well.
Genuis says that regardless of how often it happens, people should be protected against it. For example, he said, people are rarely discriminated against for their marital status these days, but there’s no harm in having that protection remain in the Human Rights Act.
Public employees—including doctors and nurses—have hitherto relied on free expression rights to combat professional discipline for expressing political views, Genuis said. This legislation could give such individuals another legal tool. “Being able to use the Human Rights Act as well likely provides a faster and more convenient remedy.”
Genuis said some people will go to the extreme and say this legislation would protect people advocating violence or racism. “And frankly, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “The human rights protections we have exist within the framework of a rule-of-law society. They don’t allow just anyone to do just anything.”
Bill C-257 went through a first reading in the House last year. The Senate version, S-257, was first read November last year and has a better chance of moving forward quickly, Genuis said. If S-257 makes it through the Senate, C-257 will receive higher priority in the House.