The head of the Alberta Human Rights Commission is refusing to quit despite public direction from Justice Minister Tyler Shandro to do so over a passage in a book review that has been criticized as Islamophobic.
“My client, the first openly gay chief of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, will not be resigning his position,” Kathryn Marshall, the lawyer for Collin May, said Thursday in a statement.
“He has done nothing wrong.
“The various public allegations that have been made about my client are false,” Marshall added.
“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.”
Marshall’s office and May did not respond to a request for interviews.
The statement does not explain which groups are targeting May or why May’s sexual orientation is relevant to the issue.
Shandro’s office declined to comment.
NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir said the standoff has put Shandro’s credibility on the line.
“If the minister wants to be taken seriously and trusted, he should follow through and remove Collin May from his position,” Sabir said Thursday.
Shandro hired May through a cabinet order and has the power to fire him. On Monday, Shandro issued a public statement calling for May to resign in a controversy that began even before May was officially appointed chief of the commission in July.
At that time, critics pointed to a book review May wrote in 2009, saying the 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 signatures 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 Thursday.
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.