Justice Minister Tyler Shandro asks Alberta Human Rights Commission chief to resign

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has asked Alberta Human Rights Commission chief Collin May to resign, responding to concerns raised by more than two dozen Muslim organizations.

In July, May came under fire following the resurfacing of a 2009 book review he wrote that critics say highlighted Islamophobic ideas.

In response, May said in a statement he was committed to meeting with Alberta’s Muslim community “to learn more about their lived experiences in Alberta and to work towards overcoming discrimination against the Islamic community.”

However, an open letter signed by 28 Alberta-based Muslim organizations published Monday alleges that May has failed to meet with Muslim leaders.

“Upon receiving the letter, Minister Shandro requested an explanation from Mr. May,” Shandro’s press secretary Joseph Dow said in an emailed statement. “After reviewing the explanation, Minister Shandro has asked for Mr. May’s resignation.”

CBC requested an interview with May or a representative of the Alberta Human Rights Commission on Monday but received no response. The commission told CBC in July that its policy mandate prevents a chief from giving media interviews in order to maintain neutrality.

National Council of Canadian Muslims spokesperson Said Omar said that after May committed to working with the community, Muslim leaders suggested dates for meeting with May, which he declined.

May never responded to their request that he propose dates that work for him, Omar said. 

Following the initial controversy, NCCM also became aware that May sent letters threatening legal action, Omar said.

Omar declined to share who received legal letters from May, but confirmed that neither NCCM nor any of the open letter signatories have received one. 

CBC has received a letter threatening legal action from May regarding an article published July 16 about the book review controversy. 

The open letter calls May’s actions “simply unacceptable.”

“In a time where brazen attacks on Muslims in Alberta have been growing, specifically targeting Black Muslim women wearing hijab, Mr. May’s decision to threaten to sue his critics, while simultaneously suggesting outreach with Alberta’s Muslim communities, have been extraordinary and shocking,” the letter states. 

May, a Calgary lawyer, began his new five-year role as chief in July after serving on the commission since 2019.

Shortly after, he was criticized for a review of Israeli-British historian Efraim Karsh’s Islamic Imperialism: A History.

In the review, May highlighted Karsh’s Islamophobic position that Islam is inherently militaristic. 

“[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.

In an interview in July, Omar explained that understanding of Islam is incorrect and that it’s not a view held by most, if any, Muslims. 

The Alberta Human Rights Commission is an independent commission created by the Government of Alberta. Its director and employees handle complaints made under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

May’s role, as the commission’s chief, is to review appeals of decisions by the director and appoint members of the commission to serve on human rights tribunals.  The chief is also responsible for keeping the minister of justice informed about human rights issues and providing guidance to the director and other members of the commission.