Alberta’s government has revoked the appointment of the head of the human rights commission in a dispute over a passage in a book review criticized as Islamophobic.
The Justice Department, Tyler Shandro, has not formally announced that it has removed Collin May as head of the commission.
Instead, late Thursday afternoon, it emailed without comment a copy of the official cabinet order revoking May’s job.
The cabinet decision contained no reasons for Shandro’s decision or comment.
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 following comments in a book review he wrote 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 Alberta Human Rights Commission’s first openly gay chief, will not resign,” attorney Kathryn Marshall said in a statement.
“The various public accusations made about my client are false.
“My client has been targeted by individuals and groups who are politically motivated and peddling a misleading interpretation of a book review he wrote 13 years ago.”
The statement does not explain which groups May target or why May’s sexual orientation is relevant.
Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said Shandro did the right thing.
“I am pleased that Mr May has been removed from this position and I encourage Minister Shandro to be more thoughtful and diligent in finding a replacement,” Sabir said in a statement.
May had come under fire before Shandro appointed him head of the commission in July.
At the time, critics pointed to the 2009 book review, saying there were concerns that he is Islamophobic and therefore unfit to serve as head of the committee that ensures Albertans are not discriminated against.
May responded in a statement on July 7, categorically rejecting the allegations. He promised to meet with Muslim leaders in Alberta and “commit to continuing my personal education on Islam and all religions.”
Things came to a head on Monday when the National Council of Canadian Muslims released an open letter accusing May of not meeting despite repeated attempts to contact him.
The organization collected notes from 28 Muslim communities calling on Shandro to order May to stop.
Hours later that day, Shandro’s office released 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 address the conversation or what specifically prompted the quit.
Said Omar, a spokesman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, declined to comment on the rollback of May’s nomination.
May, a Calgary lawyer, was appointed to the Human Rights Commission in 2019. In recent years, he has contributed articles to C2C Journal, an online and print publication that focuses 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 religion.
In part of the review, May notes that the book states, “Islam is not a peaceful religion abused by radicals. Rather, it is one of the most militaristic religions known to mankind, and it is precisely this militaristic heritage that forms the basis for the actions of radicals throughout the Muslim world.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims has focused on that paragraph in its critique, characterizing it as a “shocking” and stigmatizing stereotype.
May and the editors of his article fired back.
May said in his July 7 statement: “I want 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 said in a rebuttal published on her site in July that May made it clear that it was the book author’s point of view, not his own.
“Whether a reviewer agrees or disagrees with an author’s point of view, he or she has a duty to convey the book’s thesis in good faith,” the editorial wrote.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 15, 2022