Posted on September 28, 2011

Internet Hate Speech Section of Rights Code Could Face Repeal

Charles Lewis, National Post, September 27, 2011

A Tory MP plans to introduce legislation as early as Friday calling for the repeal of a section in the federal human rights code banning hate speech over the Internet.

Despite being a backbencher, Brian Storseth is convinced the bill will succeed because nearly every Tory MP opposes Section 13, and he believes the Harper government wants to see it repealed.

“Section 13 suppresses the basic right to freedom of speech in our society that is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights & Freedoms,” said Mr. Storseth, who represents the Alberta riding of Westlock-St. Paul.

Hate speech that is truly capable of bringing harm to an identifiable group or individual is already dealt with in the Criminal Code, he said. In those cases, police investigate and the Attorney General has to lay the complaint to ensure that allegation is not frivolous.

“We need to have some reasonable tests of harm in our society and I believe the Criminal Code looks after that and ensures that Canadians aren’t targeted by hatred,” he said.

“But the difference is that in a court there is the openness and transparency, which you don’t have through the human rights tribunal. In a tribunal, a person can lay a complaint, but doesn’t not have to have their name attached to it. There’s no cost or expense to the person putting the complaint forward, no matter how frivolous that complaint might be. And it violates the fundamental right of an accused to face his accuser.

“At the end of the day, all the onus and costs are put on the defendant and this should not the basis of our justice system.”

Suppressing free speech can help drive abhorrent views underground, allowing them to fester and grow, he adds.

“We need to have liberty of free speech and it’s ultimately freedom of speech that looks after these issues by allowing the light of day to destroy hateful propaganda.”

The bill will come to a first vote in early November, about a month before the constitutionality of Section 13 will be reviewed by a federal court.

Mr. Storseth said he prefers not to wait for the court to make its decision because this is the responsibility of Parliament.

Section 13 has been controversial since its inception more than a decade ago.

In 2008, Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor, prepared a report for the Canadian Human Rights Commission concluding the section should be removed. His advice was never acted upon.

The following year, a member of a human rights tribunal said Section 13 violated the Charter, which put the bill in a state of limbo and eventually led to the review in federal court.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the section “limits free speech and it is far from a reasonable limit.”

She said the wording of the section is so broad it makes the determination of “hate speech” too arbitrary and too subjective.

In 2008, Keith Martin, then a Liberal MP, tried to remove Section 13 from the human rights code. He was in part reacting to a case in which author Mark Steyn and Maclean’s magazine were brought before a tribunal for allegedly promoting Islamaphobia.

“We have hate crime legislation thankfully in our country,” Mr. Martin said at the time.

“If something is deemed to be a hate crime it should go to court. Anything else that is not deemed to be a hate crime [under the Criminal Code] people should be allowed to say whether you agree or vehemently oppose it. Thankfully, we live in a country where we’re allowed to speak our mind.”