OTTAWA — The House of Commons has adopted a private members bill that will repeal the section of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) that addresses Internet and telephone hate speech.
In a free vote of 153 to 136 that largely followed party lines, the Commons supported a bill by Alberta Conservative backbencher Brian Storseth that will repeal Section 13 of the CHRA.
The bill still has to be approved by the Senate before it receives royal assent and becomes law.
Storseth said the repeal would be a “vote for freedom.” He called Section 13 a “vague and highly subjective law” that “an overzealous bureaucracy” had been using to suppress Canadians’ right to freedom of expression.
Storseth said the current human rights legislation allows too many frivolous cases to proceed against citizens and that hate-incitement provisions of the Criminal Code, as enforced by the courts, are the proper venue to deal with hate speech.
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said the repeal of Section 13 must be accompanied by greater reliance on the Criminal Code.
Section 13 as it stood was inadequate to the task of tackling hate speech, Fogel said, but unless there was greater use of the Criminal Code, “this would be replacing one problem with another.”
Vulnerable minorities must be protected from hate speech, he said. “Ultimately, we are indifferent as to whether the Criminal Code becomes the instrument or a modified Section 13 continued to be the platform. One or the other would be fine.
“The problem has been the lack of will on behalf of attorneys-general and a lack of co-ordination between governments to ensure there is a single approach to the problem.”
Though the Criminal Code is a national law, it is enforced provincially and in the case of hate-crime prosecutions, cases cannot proceed without the consent of the provincial attorney general.
Section 13 cases under the CHRA are adjudicated by civil servants sitting as a tribunal. The type of evidence that can be heard, the standard of proof and other legal safeguards are much stricter in criminal prosecutions.
Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Canada, agreed that “there are problems with the operation of Section 13.” However, “the law must strike a balance between preventing the abuse of the Internet and protecting individual rights to privacy and free speech. In as much we all believe in absolute freedom, our freedom is in reality protected by laws and social safeguards that help shield us against harm from each other and from civil disobedience. Without guiding posts or red lines that protect us against hateful behaviour, inequity would result, leading to a loss of freedom and tolerance for all.”