|Sexually Farcical University proves failure of human rights legislation
August 3, 1997
The scandal at Simon Fraser University is guaranteed to last at least until the end of the year, now that its board of governors voted Thursday not to remove president John Stubbs from office. Instead, the board granted Stubbs’ request for a three-month medical leave to recover from a depression that he says set in after he sacked swimming coach Liam Donnelly.
If nothing else, Stubbs’ has managed to generate considerable sympathy, but it cannot redound to his benefit or that of SFU. His credibility among faculty, donors (and, I dare say, students) is so compromised that he has lost the moral authority to govern. Stubbs should have done the honourable thing and resigned so that SFU could move beyond the scandal and get on with rebuilding its once proud reputation. But selfless, intelligent leadership is not something one associates with SFU these days.
It seems incredible that one of the best universities in Canada could be brought to such an ignominious state in only a couple of months. Yet, this was a scandal waiting to happen, and it’s surprising that it hadn’t happened sooner. For all the salacious details (or non-details) of the Donnelly/ Marsden scandal and SFU’s administrative stupidity, the villain of the piece is larger than any one person or anything specific to SFU and needs to brought out into the open
The cause of this tragedy is the B.C. Human Rights Code, and the way it tolerates violations of individual liberties in the name of “equality.” The problem begins with the term “human rights,” at least as it applies to B.C.
“Human rights” is a buzzword that requires only acceptance, not understanding. It sounds so perfect, so ideal, so “humane” that it can’t be criticized, yet criticized it must be. In practice, it speaks not to human rights, but to the rights of whom I call “the outsiders”—feminists, homosexuals, minorities and the disabled—those who have for a long time felt shut out of the political and economic decision-making structure.
Now, there is no reason why these groups should not agitate for equal rights. They have every right to do so and more power to them. But because certain of them wrap themselves in the impermeable cloak of “human rights”—rights which are protected by law—the violence that is done to others’ constitutional rights and freedoms can rarely be challenged successfully.
In short, human rights legislation inverts everything we commonly accept as just. Nowhere is this clearer than the way the Human Rights Code treats people charged with discrimination: The B.C. Human Rights review Report on Human Rights in British Columbia (December 1994) states:
“It was once assumed that discrimination involved intentional bias and that the solution was identical treatment. More recently the courts have˜ held that identical treatment may itself be discriminatory if the treatment has a more onerous effect on one person than another. The test of equality is in terms of the effect of the conduct, not the motives for it.˜ Old concepts of equality and discrimination have caused particular confusion concerning the accommodation of differences.”
Thus, under human rights legislation, justice is no longer neutral; it is the handmaiden of the outsiders. Moreover, the report says combatting individual cases of discrimination is not enough; discrimination must be prevented before it occurs. The corollary to such absolutism should be obvious. The state must micro-manage everyone’s behaviour. As soon as the state arrogates the right to prejudge peoples’ motives, we no longer live in a free society.
Once a man is before a human rights tribunal he cannot look to the courts for protection. The report states: “[Prosecution] brought with it all the safeguards that apply to penal legislation. For example, the violation had to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and the accused had the right to remain silent. As applied to discrimination these rules made enforcement almost impossible. It was especially difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the motive for refusing to deal with a person was race or religion rather than some legitimate reason.”
Thus, in the absence of proof, guesswork will do. For the accuser, the good thing about innuendoes, anecdotes, rumours, unsubstantiated allegations and outright lies is that they’re especially difficult to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt. Had Donnelly participated in the SFU harassment tribunal, it is far from certain that he could have overcome its entrenched feminist bias. One may infer this conclusion by the credulous reception given to the “evidence” against him.
Ignoring the tribunal was the smartest thing Donnelly could have done, because it let the outside world see into the Star Chamber. It was not “bad legal advice.”
The purpose of human rights legislation, however noble its intent, is to short-circuit the justice system on behalf of the outsiders. The report frequently complains about procedural delays and repeats phrases about “expediency,” “facilitation,” and “efficiency”—as if the B.C. Human Rights Council could simply command the wheels of justice to grind faster.
At minimum, there have to be safeguards against abuse by complainants and adjudicators, yet the report is virtually silent on this subject. It mentions that “some business organizations” object to the B.C. Human Rights Council receiving and investigating claims, because of the appearance of bias, but then dismisses it as a “misunderstanding of the facts.”
Yet a conflict of interest was precisely what led to Donnelly being fired. Anita Braha was lawyer both for the harassment office and the university. I asked new harassment officer Michele Medlicott about this obvious conflict, but she denied there was one and proceeded to recite Braha’s rªsumª in her defence.
Because human rights legislation is an instrument of justice for the outsiders, those who err on the side of the cause find support, not criticism. We see this double-standard in a laughably blinkered Vancouver Sun op/ed piece by chairwomen of women’s studies Marjorie Griffen Cohen.
It is a masterpiece of cognitive dissonance: Justice for Donnelly is irrelevant—the harassment policy must be defended; Stubbs did nothing wrong—he was only following orders. Stubbs must not be fired—it would leave women and minorities at the mercy of professors.
Cohen overtly equates Stubbs with the cause of women and minorities. She cites approvingly human rights legislation mandating a “harassment-free” and “discrimination-free” workplace, but later without hint of irony says: “The promotion of human rights and the prevention of abuse of power helps to ensure academic freedom.”
The contradiction is irreconcilable.
“Human rights” is a politically correct euphemism for political rights for the outsiders. It therefore does not apply to all humans and is therefore fair game for criticism.
Universities (and other institutions) should be allowed to enforce codes of conduct through positive legislation, but these codes must serve public, not private, justice. Until we do away with the sham of “human rights,” conflicts of interest and imaginary standards of evidence, what happened to Liam Donnelly will happen to someone else—maybe you.