Community groups are condemning the appointment of the new head of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Tribunals, following the revamping of a 2009 academic book in which he made Islamophobic remarks.
Calgary lawyer Collin May began his new five-year role as chief this week after serving on the commission since 2019.
“It was very shocking and hurtful and just disturbing to see some of Collin May’s statements,” said Said Omar, Alberta advocacy manager for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).
Collin May’s critique of British-Israeli historian Efraim Karsh Islamic Imperialism: A History was revealed again earlier this month in an article published by The Progress Report, an Alberta media outlet.
May’s comment highlighted Karsh’s Islamophobic claim that religion is inherently militaristic in nature, under the guise of analysis.
“[Karsh] challenges the multicultural illusion of peaceful Islam and gets to the heart of the matter. Islam is not a peaceful religion hijacked by radicals. On the contrary, it is one of the most militaristic religions known to man, and it is precisely this militaristic heritage that informs the actions of radicals across the Muslim world,” May wrote in her 2009 review.
1. We are deeply concerned by the troubling views on Islam expressed in 2009 in the form of a book review by Collin May, the new head of the Alberta Human Rights Commission. https://t.co/mJgnlvcOI8
C2C Journal is primarily an online publication, whose “brazen bias is in favor of free markets, democratic governance and individual freedom”, according to its website.
This is the same outlet in which Paul Bunner, former Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s speechwriter, wrote an article that dismissed the “false history of genocide” of Canada’s residential school system and said that young Indigenous people could be “ripe recruits” for violent insurgencies.
The NCCM is now working with May to see that he better serves Muslim communities.
May’s review is problematic because it is based on stereotypes of Islam that most – if not all – Muslims do not share, and it is based on an understanding of Islam that is incorrect, Omar said.
The council has approached May and members of the Alberta government, and work is underway to rectify the situation with community members, he said.
“A real apology must be a commitment to continued action and a real commitment to making amends,” Omar said. “We will let the community be the arbiter of his good faith efforts and sincerity.”
CBC News has requested an interview with May. The commission responded, saying his political tenure precluded a chief from giving media interviews in order to maintain neutrality, given the nature of the post, but forwarded a statement from May released last week.
“I do not believe in or accept the characterization of Islam as a religion or a militant movement, especially in light of significant recent and diverse scholarship that strives to overcome misconceptions about the history and Muslim philosophy,” May said in the statement.
“I specifically want to affirm that Muslim Albertans are entitled to the full and equal respect given to all of our communities.”
The commission, in a separate statement, said it is independent of the provincial government and is committed to respecting Alberta’s human rights law.
“We have a long history of working with Islamic organizations and the Muslim community, and we will continue our efforts to strengthen these relations in the future,” the commission said.
“Not a position to get on-the-job training”
Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir called for May’s resignation, saying Albertans would be better served by someone who is educated and connected to Muslim communities.
“The Alberta Human Rights Commission should not allow him to take on-the-job training,” Sabir said.
“This position should be filled by someone who understands the diversity of this province, who understands the challenges that BIPOC communities and Indigenous communities face.”
Sabir also calls out May for only addressing criticism now, 13 years after writing it – and just as he takes on his role as leader.
“He had been on this commission for some time…if he had changed his views, he should have come forward,” he said.
He added that this situation casts further doubt on the provincial government’s audit process, as well as the United Conservative Party’s commitment to fighting racism, particularly given the lack of major action on the 48 recommendations. of the Alberta Advisory Council Against Racism published last year. .
The Alberta government is due to share details of an action plan to address racism in the province next week.
The Alberta Human Rights Commission should not be a [May] for on-the-job training.– Irfan Sabir, NDP Opposition Justice Critic
The Office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General managed the audit process for the month of May.
CBC News has requested an interview with Tyler Shandro, Alberta Justice Minister and Solicitor General. Shandro’s publicist made a statement.
“The Government of Alberta does not agree with the characterization of Islam or the position expressed in the book review written in 2009,” the statement said.
The Justice Department accepted May’s statement, and the government “will continue to hold the commission to its mandate to promote equality and reduce discrimination in our province,” he added.