Ontario Human Rights Commission slams Islamophobia

In a recent decision, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) decided not to proceed with complaints filed against Maclean’s magazine related to an article “The future belongs to Islam“. The complainants alleged that the content of the magazine and Maclean’s refusal to provide space for a rebuttal violated their human rights.

Denying a service because of human rights grounds such as race or creed can form the basis for a human rights complaint. However, the Ontario Human Rights Code (the “Code“) does not give the Commission the jurisdiction to deal with the content of magazine articles through the complaints process.

Nevertheless, the Commission has a broader mandate to promote and advance respect for human rights in Ontario, forward the dignity and worth of every Ontarian and take steps to alleviate tension and conflict in the community, including by speaking out on events that are inconsistent with the spirit of the Code.

While freedom of expression must be recognized as a cornerstone of a functioning democracy, the Commission has serious concerns about the content of a number of articles concerning Muslims that have been published by Maclean’s magazine and other media outlets. This type of media coverage has been identified as contributing to Islamophobia and promoting societal intolerance towards Muslim, Arab and South Asian Canadians.

The Commission recognizes and understands the serious harm that such writings cause, both to the targeted communities and society as a whole. And, while we all recognize and promote the inherent value of freedom of expression, it should also be possible to challenge any institution that contributes to the dissemination of destructive, xenophobic opinions.

Ontario Human Rights Commission statement, 9 April 2008