As people better understand their rights and wish to exercise them, some of those rights may come into conflict with the rights of others. Depending on the circumstances, for example, the right to be free from discrimination based on creed or sexual orientation or gender may be at odds with each other or with other rights, laws and practices. Can a religious employer require an employee to sign a “morality pledge” not to engage in certain sexual activity? Can an accuser testify at the criminal trial of her accused wearing a niqab? How do you resolve a situation where a professor’s guide dog causes a severe allergic reaction in a student?
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, provincial human rights legislation and the courts recognize that no rights are absolute and no one right is more important than another right. Our laws guarantee rights such as freedom of expression as well as protection against discrimination and harassment based on gender, creed (sincerely held religious beliefs as well as atheism or agnosticism), sexual orientation and disability, among other grounds. They require we give all rights equal consideration. The law also recognizes that rights have limits in some situations where they substantially interfere with the rights of others.
The courts have said we must go through a process on a case-by-case basis to search for solutions to reconcile competing rights and accommodate individuals and groups if possible. This search can be challenging, controversial, and sometimes dissatisfying to one side or the other. But it is a shared responsibility and made easier when we better understand the nature of one another’s rights and obligations and demonstrate mutual respect for the dignity and worth of all involved. Finding the best solution for maximizing enjoyment of rights takes dialogue and even debate.
The OHRC has been taking steps over the last number of years to advance understanding of how best to address competing rights...No need, really. We all know that there's a pecking order of victim groups, and that in any conflict between, say, Muslims and gays or Muslims and Jews or Muslims and society at large, the strongest horse will inevitably prevail.