Edmonton

Alberta's human rights commission chief under fire for Islamophobic book review

Community groups are condemning the appointment of the new chief of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Tribunals, following the resurfacing of a 2009 academic book in which he made Islamaphobic comments.

Opposition NDP justice critic calls for Collin May's resignation for review written in 2009

A bald man wears a suit while looking neutral.
Collin May, who was recently appointed chief of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Tribunals, said in a 2009 academic book review that Islam is 'one of the most militaristic religions known to man.' (YouTube/YourAlberta)

Community groups are condemning the appointment of the new chief of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Tribunals, following the resurfacing of a 2009 academic book in which he made Islamophobic comments.

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 troubling to see some of the statements Collin May expressed," said Said Omar, Alberta advocacy officer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).

Collin May's review of Israeli-British historian Efraim Karsh's 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 commentary highlighted Karsh's Islamophobic assertion that the religion is inherently militaristic in nature, under the guise of analysis.

"[Karsh] defies the multicultural illusion regarding pacific Islam and goes to the heart of the matter. 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," May wrote in his 2009 review.

C2C Journal is mainly an online publication, whose "unabashed bias is in favour of free markets, democratic governance and individual liberty," according to its website.

It is the same outlet in which Paul Bunner, Premier Jason Kenney's former speech writer, wrote an article that dismissed the "bogus genocide story" of Canada's residential school system, and said Indigenous youth 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's based on stereotypes of Islam that most — if not all — Muslims do not hold, and it is based on an understanding of Islam that is incorrect, Omar said.

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

A man with a beard looks straight ahead with a neutral expression
Said Omar, the National Council of Canadian Muslims Alberta advocacy officer, says May's review is problematic, in part, because it's based on stereotypes of Islam to which many Muslims do not hold. (nccm.ca)

"A true apology must be a commitment to ongoing action and a true commitment to making amends," Omar said. "We will let the community be the arbitrator of his good faith efforts and sincerity." 

CBC News requested an interview with May. The commission responded, saying its policy mandate prevents a chief from giving media interviews in order to maintain neutrality, given the nature of the position, but passed along a statement from May issued last week.

"I do not believe or accept the characterization of Islam as a militant religion or movement, especially in light of important recent and diverse scholarship that is working to overcome misconceptions regarding Muslim history and philosophy," May said in the statement.

"I specifically want to affirm that Muslim Albertans are entitled to the full and equal respect accorded all our communities."

The commission, in a separate statement, said it is independent from the provincial government and commits to upholding the Alberta Human Rights Act.

"We have a long history working with Islamic organizations and the Muslim community, and will continue our efforts to enhance those relationships going forward," the commission said.

Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir has called for May to resign from his position as chief of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and Tribunals. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

'Not a position to get on-job training'

Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir has called for May's resignation, saying Albertans would be better served by someone who is educated and connected with Muslim communities. 

"The Alberta Human Rights Commission should not be a position for him to get on-job training," Sabir said.

"That position should be filled by a person who understands the diversity of this province, who understands what challenges BIPOC communities, Indigenous communities face." 

Sabir is also calling out May for only addressing the review now, 13 years after he wrote it — and just as he takes up his role as chief.

"He'd been on this commission for a while ... had he evolved his views, he should have come forward," he said.

He added that this situation casts further doubt on the the provincial government's vetting process, as well as the United Conservative Party's commitment to tackling racism, particularly because of the lack of major action regarding 48 recommendations from the Alberta anti-racism advisory council released last year.

The Alberta government is scheduled to share 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-job training.- Irfan Sabir, Opposition NDP justice critic

The office of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General handled the vetting process for May.

CBC News requested an interview with Tyler Shandro, Alberta's justice minister and solicitor general. Shandro's press secretary provided a statement.

"Alberta's government does not agree with the characterization of Islam or the position expressed in the book review written in 2009," the statement said.

The justice ministry accepted May's statement, and the government "will continue to hold the commission to their mandate of fostering equality and reducing discrimination in our province," it added.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mrinali is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has worked in newsrooms across the country in Toronto, Windsor and Fredericton. She has chased stories for CBC's The National, CBC Radio's Cross Country Checkup and CBC News Network. Reach out at Mrinali.anchan@cbc.ca

now