Former head of Alberta human rights commission suing government for firing him
The man recently fired from the top job at Alberta’s Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is suing the provincial government, specifically the justice minister, for what he alleges was a wrongful termination, malicious treatment and collusion that led to his removal from that role.
Collin May is accusing the government of a bad faith dismissal tainted by overreach by Justice Minister Tyler Shandro’s office and politically motivated interference, according to the lawsuit obtained by CBC News. He is seeking $2,125,000 in lost salary and damages, plus a declaration that he was wrongfully let go and the government breached its contract.
“In a nutshell, he was targeted by a number of individuals and groups who had their own agendas and motivations and scapegoated him for various reasons,” said Kathryn Marshall, a partner with Levitt Sheikh LLP and May’s lawyer.
May was involved with the AHRC since 2019 and was named chief of the provincial body in May. Shortly after his appointment was made public and before his term started, he came under fire for a book review he authoured 13 years ago.
That review of Israeli-British historian Efraim Karsh’s Islamic Imperialism: A History resurfaced in an article published this summer by The Progress Report, an Alberta media site.
May’s commentary highlighted Karsh’s assertion that the religion is inherently militaristic in nature.
“[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.
That commentary was called stereotyping and hurtful by the National Council of Canadian Muslims and Islamaphobic by the opposition NDP. Both groups called for him to resign.
May’s appointment was set to run from this July until the summer of 2027, but his appointment was rescinded two months into that term by Shandro after the outcry. Though the position is an appointment by the government, it includes a detailed employment contract.
The allegations contained in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.
CBC News has reached out to the National Council of Canadian Muslims for comment, and the government said it would not comment on a matter before the courts.
Allegations of political interference
The lawsuit says May co-operated and was proactive with the government and National Council of Canadian Muslims in addressing the contents of the book review. The council’s letter to Shandro states May didn’t prioritize those meetings and he did not “appear to be interested in accountability or ownership over his actions.”
By September, the council sent a letter to Shandro demanding May be removed from his role. That same day, a media release said the minister had asked for his resignation.
Marshall says her client had not received any request at that point — and didn’t get the letter until the next day, after he’d learned about it from media reports.
May says he was told on Sept. 15 he had been fired. He maintains he has still not been provided with a reason for the termination.
May alleges the government and justice minister subjected him to a poisoned work environment, colluded with the National Council of Canadian Muslims to terminate him, fired him in bad faith, cost him job opportunities and damaged his reputation.
“One of the very disturbing elements of this case is the political interference that the government was engaged in with respect to my client. The Human Rights Commission is supposed to be an independent entity, very arm’s-length from the government for good reason,” Marshall said.
In the lawsuit, May alleges the government was over-involved in handling the backlash.
The document claims May had received several warnings from the minister and premier’s offices that people were trying to undermine him and digging around on his book review. As the situation progressed, it alleges the government gave direction as to how an apology could be issued and told him to stop meeting with members of the Muslim community until further word from the government.
The pressure was so sustained, May says, he had to block the cellphone number of Shandro’s chief of staff.
The document also alleges Alberta’s NDP, including MLAs, were “clearly co-ordinated for the purpose of smearing [May’s] character.”
The NDP’s justice critic, Irfan Sabir, responded that “Mr. May’s innuendo is merely an attempt to distract from his own behaviour.”