A new bill in Canada could make online hate speech a crime and punishable by a fine of up to $70,000 and jail time.
Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of speech to Canadian residents, which is why a section of the Human Rights Act that put restrictions on “hate” speech was eventually repealed after its initial passage in 2013.
Now, however, the concept is back for legislative consideration in the new Bill C-36, which ostensibly attempts to fix the problems of the Section 13 hate speech provision by providing more clear protections for free speech. It reads,
“Hate speech means the content of a communication that expresses detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination. For greater certainty, the content of a communication does not express detestation or vilification, for the purposes of subsection, solely because it expresses mere dislike or disdain or it discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends.”
But as Matthew Lau, an adjunct scholar at the Fraser Institute and fellow with the Montreal Economic Institute, notes, this bill does nothing to solve the problem of subjectivity. Lau writes,
“But what is the difference between speech that expresses hatred and speech that merely expresses dislike? In a society governed by laws, people should be able to know whether something is lawful before they do it. With this proposed hate speech law, people instead will find out after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal reaches its decision whether their speech was illegal or not.”
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti tried to assuage these fears by saying, “These changes are designed to target the most egregious and clear forms of hate speech that can lead to discrimination and violence. They do not target simple expressions of dislike or disdain that pepper everyday discourses, especially online.”
However, he added, “[The bill] would allow anyone to take action if they experience hate online. Online hate is a reality … C-36 is an important first step to making our online public square as safe as the public square we walk every day.”
Critics argue that the bill will face the exact same issues as Section 13. Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Fundamental Freedoms Program, said,
“The concerns that we had with (Section 13) continue to be concerns. I think we will probably see people making complaints that probably shouldn’t go forward and there may be a chilling effect on people who were concerned about expressing themselves and whether they’ll cross some sort of line.”
Of the new definition, Zwibel said, “You could tell people this definition of hatred and you still would get a variety of views on whether a particular piece of content is on that side of the line.”
Christine Van Geyn, litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, said the definition “is very discretionary and will be at the subjective interpretation of unelected bureaucrats.”
Other concerns with the bill include the provincial court’s ability to force the defendant to enter into a recognizance “to keep the peace.” During the recognizance, which can last one to two years, the defendant can be forced to:
The defendant can also be prohibited from having contact with the “informant” and denied the right to own firearms.
If a person is convicted of hate speech under the new bill, their punishment can include paying the victim $20,000 and the government another $50,000 or going to jail.
The idea that the definition of hate speech in Bill C-36 is any less subjective than that of the since-repealed Section 13 is clearly erroneous. Under this bill, a person can decide that they feel threatened by a person’s speech, report them to the government, and that person can then be treated as a criminal based on the subjective interpretation of bureaucrats — without any real evidence that they have committed a tangible crime spelled out in law.
This provides the accuser and the government nearly unchecked power to curb speech regarding protected categories. In Lau’s response to the law, he quoted mathematician and philosopher David Berlinski, who said,
“Very often, an attack will be promoted in seriousness on the grounds that the person doing the attacking was hateful. But should it matter why the person was hateful, or even that the person was hateful at all? Suppose that he was attacking and he was suffused with a loving sense. He just simply wanted lovingly to club someone into the urine-stained pavement.”
To which Berlinski asked, “Would that be a lesser crime?”
The point is an astute one. Laws are largely based on tangible harm caused — not on the perceived motivation of the accused. Why is a crime deemed a hate crime because the perpetrator hates the victim because of their membership in a protected class as opposed to hating them because of some other characteristic?
Furthermore, Lametti claims that the law aims to make the online public square as safe as the public square “we walk every day.” His statement is nonsensical because no one is physically harmed through discourse online. Speech laws treat unkind rhetoric as actual harm rather than what they are: words.
Speech laws are a gross restriction of freedom and a vehicle for tyranny. By allowing the accuser to lob accusations based on their “feeling” threatened combined with the allure of monetary reward, the legislation invites false accusation.
By granting the government the role of determining what is and is not hate speech, the legislation grants authorities a blank check to criminalize views such as those that oppose the LGBT agenda.
The U.S. is inching closer towards the adoption of similar hate speech policies and laws as the Biden administration appears to have every intention of making them a reality, as indicated by its proposals, its lack of concern over censorship efforts, and direct statements by administration officials. Such laws are a clear and present danger to a free society and should be resisted at all turns.