Alberta Human Rights Commission chief under fire for anti-Islamic book review

Community groups are condemning the appointment of the new head of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Tribunals after a 2009 scholarly book surfaced in which he made anti-Islamic remarks.

Calgary attorney Collin May began his new five-year role as chief this week, having served on the commission since 2019.

“It was very shocking and hurtful and just upsetting to see some of what Collin May had said,” said Said Omar, paralegal for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) in Alberta.

Collin May’s review of the Israeli-British historian Efraim Karsh Islamic Imperialism: A History came to light again earlier this month in an article published by The Progress Report, an Alberta news outlet.

May’s comment, under the guise of analysis, highlighted Karsh’s anti-Islamic claim that the religion is inherently militaristic.

“[Karsh] defies the multicultural illusion of a Pacific Islam and gets to the heart of the matter. Islam is not a peaceful religion abused by radicals. Rather, it is one of the most militaristic religions known to man, and it is precisely this militaristic legacy that informs the actions of radicals throughout the Muslim world,” May wrote in his 2009 review.

The C2C Journal is primarily an online publication whose “blatant bias is in favor of free markets, democratic governance and individual liberty,” according to the website.

It’s the same issue in which Paul Bunner, Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s former speechwriter, wrote an article that dismissed the “false genocidal history” of Canada’s boarding school system and said Indigenous youth could be “seasoned recruits” for violent insurgency.

The NCCM is now working with May to ensure 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 hold and it is based on a misunderstanding of Islam, Omar said.

The council reached out to May and members of the Alberta government, and work is underway to rectify the situation with community members, he said.

Said Omar, the advocacy officer for Alberta’s National Council of Canadian Muslims, says May’s review is problematic in part because it is based on stereotypes of Islam that many Muslims don’t hold. (nccm.ca)

“A real apology has to be a commitment to continued action and a real commitment to make amends,” Omar said. “We will let the community be the arbiter of his efforts in good faith and his sincerity.”

CBC News requested an interview with May. The commission responded, saying its political mandate prevents a boss from giving media interviews to maintain neutrality given the nature of the position, but shared a May statement released last week became.

“I do not believe or accept the characterization of Islam as a militant religion or movement, particularly in light of important recent and diverse scholarship working to overcome misconceptions about Muslim history and philosophy,” May said in the statement.

“I want to strongly affirm that Muslim Albertans are entitled to the full and equal respect accorded to all of our communities.”

The commission said in a separate statement it is independent of the provincial government and is committed to complying with the Alberta Human Rights Act.

“We have a long history of working with Islamic organizations and the Muslim community and will continue our efforts to improve these relationships in the future,” the commission said.

The opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir has called on May to resign from his position as head of Alberta’s human rights commission and tribunals. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

“No position for in-company training”

Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir called for May’s resignation, saying Albertans would be better served by someone educated and connected to Muslim communities.

“The Alberta Human Rights Commission should not be a position for him to receive on-the-job training,” Sabir said.

“This position should be filled by an individual who understands the diversity of this province, who understands the challenges BIPOC and Indigenous communities face.”

Sabir also urges May to only deal with the review now, 13 years after he wrote it – and just as he is stepping into his role as chef.

“He’s been on this commission for a while…had he developed his views, he should have come forward,” he said.

He added that this situation casts further doubts on the provincial government’s review process as well as the United Conservative Party’s commitment to combating racism, particularly due to the lack of major action on 48 recommendations by Alberta’s Anti-Racism Advisory Committee released last year.

The Alberta government is expected to announce details of an action plan to combat racism in the province next week.

The Alberta Human Rights Commission should not be a position for [May] to get on-the-job training.– Irfan Sabir, judicial critic of the opposition NDP

The Office of the Attorney General and Attorney General conducted the review process for May.

CBC News requested an interview with Tyler Shandro, Alberta Attorney General and Attorney General. Shandro’s press secretary issued a statement.

“The Alberta government does not agree with the characterization of Islam or the position expressed in the 2009 book review,” the statement said.

The Justice Department accepted May’s statement, and the government “will continue to uphold the Commission’s mandate to promote equality and reduce discrimination in our province,” she added.

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