Skip to content

Alberta in showdown with human rights chief in Islamophobia controversy

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro answers questions at a news conference in Calgary, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. A day after Shandro, who is now justice minister, publicly directed the head of the provincial human rights commission to quit, the commissioner’s office lobbed the issue right back at him, saying it’s Shandro who does the hiring and firing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

EDMONTON — A day after Justice Minister Tyler Shandro publicly directed the head of Alberta's human rights commission to quit, the commissioner’s office lobbed the issue back at him, saying it’s Shandro who does the hiring and firing.

“The commission does not have any information to share regarding the status of Collin May’s resignation,” the Alberta Human Rights Commission said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

“The minister of justice and solicitor general is responsible for managing who is appointed as chief of the commission and tribunals.

“Please get in touch with (his office).”

Shandro’s office declined to comment.

It’s the latest turn in an issue that beset Collin May even before he was officially appointed chief of the commission in July.

At that time, critics pointed to a book review he wrote in 2009 and said the article raised concerns that May was Islamophobic and therefore unfit to serve as head of the commission dedicated to ensuring Albertans don’t face discrimination.

May responded in a statement, categorically rejecting the Islamophobic allegations and promising to “commit to continuing my personal education about Islam and all faiths."

“I will be meeting with leaders in Alberta’s Muslim community to learn more about their lived experiences in Alberta and to work towards overcoming discrimination against the Islamic community,” he added.

Matters came to a head Monday when the National Council of Canadian Muslims published an open letter accusing May of failing to meet despite repeated attempts to reach out to him.

The council said May’s intransigence cast doubt on his commitment to learn and reflect, and its letter was signed by 28 community Muslim groups.

Hours later, Shandro’s office issued a statement reiterating that May had promised more than two months ago to meet with the Muslim community.

“Minister Shandro requested an explanation from Mr. May,” wrote Shandro’s office. “After reviewing the explanation, Minister Shandro has asked for Mr. May’s resignation.”

The statement did not elaborate on the conversation or on what specifically triggered the call to quit.

Said Omar, spokesman for the Muslims council, said he was pleased Shandro called for the resignation.

He said May has not reached out to the group since it sent the letter, and it may be too late for him to mend fences anyway.

“We are always open to meeting with individuals and to try to reconciliate, but I think at this point the community has spoken,” said Omar in an interview.

May, a Calgary-based lawyer, was appointed to the commission in 2019. In years past, he has contributed articles to C2C Journal, an online and print publication focusing on political, cultural and economic issues.

In June 2009, he reviewed Efraim Karsh’s book “Islamic Imperialism: A History,” which examines the forces and cultural attitudes that have shaped the religion.

In one line in the review, May notes that the book states “Islam is not a peaceful religion misused by radicals. Rather, it is one of the most militaristic religions known to man, and it is precisely this militaristic heritage that informs the actions of radicals throughout the Muslim world.”

The Muslims council has focused on that paragraph in its criticism, characterizing it as a "shocking" and stigmatizing stereotype.

Opposition NDP Justice critic Irfan Sabir echoed the call for May’s dismissal, stating Monday: “Muslims in Canada are targeted for harassment, assault and murder purely because of their faith."

However, May and the editors of his article disagree.

May in his July statement said, “I wish to state clearly that I do not believe or accept the characterization of Islam as a militant religion or movement.”

C2C Journal editors George Koch and Peter Shawn Taylor, in a rebuttal published on its site in July, said May made it clear that it was the book author’s viewpoint — not his own — in the controversial paragraph.

“Whether a reviewer agrees or disagrees with an author’s position, he or she has a duty to convey the book’s thesis in good faith,” wrote the editors.

“The critics and complainers simply defaulted to the worst possible interpretation as a matter of course,” they added.

“This sort of behaviour has become outrageously common and is doing great damage to public discourse in Canada.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2022.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks