Parliament Hill, Ottawa. Register file photo.

Justice report worries free speech advocates

  • June 21, 2019

OTTAWA -- Free speech advocates are troubled by a House of Commons Justice Committee recommendation to reinstate a controversial section of the Canadian Human Rights Act dealing with hate speech.

In a report entitled Taking Action Against Online Hate tabled June 17, the committee has recommended reinstating Section 13, which was repealed in 2013, and requiring online platforms to police and remove hateful content. 

Section 13 made it an act of discrimination to communicate anything “likely” to expose an enumerated group to contempt or hatred. Tribunals could impose hefty fines and require those found in breach of the Act to no longer communicate their ideas. 

The committee urged the establishment of a “civil remedy for those who assert their human rights have been violated” and suggested reinstating Section 13 or something “analogous” to cover violations.

The committee also called for the Canadian government to “establish requirements for online platforms and Internet service providers with regards to how they monitor and address incidents of hate speech, and the need to remove all posts that would constitute online hatred in a timely manner.”

Catholic Civil Rights League president Phil Horgan argued before the committee that Section 13 “had been used to penalize the expression of opinions based on religious beliefs, especially when columns or articles may be written on matters of gender ideology or sexual morality.” 

“The League believes that human rights tribunals are not the appropriate forum for testing claims of hate speech,” Horgan said. 

“Criminal Code provisions regarding hate speech, as well as libel and slander laws, with charges tried in court, help ensure that complainant and defendant meet certain thresholds, are on a level playing field whether by engagement of the Crown or with respect to costs, and that rules of evidence and procedure are followed.

“The previous regime merely established a cottage industry for complainants, with the resulting threats to free speech,” he said.

Jay Cameron, the litigation manager for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), said the report shows “the government’s intentional and continued erosion of the right of freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution.”

“The foreseeable result of the committee’s recommendations, if adopted, is the censoring not of hate, but of disagreement, and the punishment of those who peacefully express views which differ from majoritarian views, but which are not criminal in nature,” he said. 

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