The Alberta government has rescinded the appointment of the head of its Human Rights Commission in a dispute stemming from a passage in a book review that has been criticized as Islamophobic.
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro’s department did not formally announce it had removed Collin May as head of the commission.
Instead, it e-mailed to media late Thursday afternoon without comment a copy of the official cabinet order rescinding May’s job.
The cabinet order contained no reasons for the decision or comment from Shandro.
Earlier this week, Shandro publicly urged May to resign after a Muslim advocacy group said May had failed to keep a promise to meet with them over comments in a book review he had written in 2009 that they deemed Islamophobic.
May refused to resign and instead hired a lawyer who announced earlier Thursday that May had done nothing wrong.
“My client, the first openly gay chief of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, will not be resigning his position,” lawyer Kathryn Marshall said in a statement.
“The various public allegations that have been made about my client are false.
“My client has been targeted by individuals and groups who are politically motivated and are peddling a misleading interpretation of a book review he wrote 13 years ago.”
The statement does not explain which groups are targeting May or why May’s sexual orientation is relevant.
Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said Shandro did the right thing.
“I am glad that Mr. May has been removed from this position, and I encourage Minister Shandro to be more thoughtful and diligent in finding a replacement,” said Sabir in a statement.
May was under fire even before Shandro appointed him chief of the commission in July.
At that time, critics pointed to the 2009 book review, saying it raised concerns that he is Islamophobic and, therefore, unfit to serve as head of the commission dedicated to ensuring Albertans don’t face discrimination.
May responded in a statement on July 7, categorically rejecting the allegations. He promised to meet with Alberta Muslim leaders and “commit to continuing my personal education about Islam and all faiths.”
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 organization collected endorsements from 28 community Muslim groups calling for Shandro to direct May to quit.
Hours later that day, Shandro’s office issued a statement: “Minister Shandro requested an explanation from Mr. May (on the NCCM criticism).
“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, a spokesman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, declined to comment on May’s appointment being reversed.
May, a Calgary-based lawyer, was appointed to the Human Rights 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 part of the review, May notes that the book argues “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 National Council of Canadian Muslims has focused on that paragraph in its criticism, characterizing it as a “shocking” and stigmatizing stereotype.
May, and the editors of his article, fired back.
May, in his July 7 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.
“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.