You can add lawyer Mark Freiman to the list of people who think it’s time to resurrect Sec. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or something like it, in order to combat hate speech.
The controversial section, which addressed online manifestations of hate speech, was repealed in 2013. But not too long ago, a representative of the free speech group PEN Canada suggested that it was time for Canada to introduce a new law to address hate speech. That came after reports that the federal government was considering introducing legislation that would revive Sec. 13.
Those are changes that Freiman would welcome, both federally and in the province of Ontario.
Freiman, who served as deputy attorney general of Ontario from 2000 to 2004, said that in recent years, there has been a troubling resurgence of hate propaganda and the vilification of minority groups in Canada. That’s a situation that cannot be allowed to continue, if we want to hold true to our core Canadian principles that place a high value on the dignity and worth of all human beings, he said.
“Hate speech is on the rise. Hate speech is a form of poison. We regulate poison and all kinds of speech that carries harm. This is the kind of speech that carries danger,” he said.
Freiman, who also served as the president of the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress, made his views known in a panel discussion that looked at the future of Canadian law in the absence of Sec. 13. Freiman was joined on the panel by Prof. Richard Moon of the University of Windsor, Howard Anglin, the executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, and lawyer Edward Prutschi, who served as moderator of the discussion. They appeared during a one-day conference on “Combating hate speech and anti-Semitism” at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, as part of an event that was sponsored by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
When sitting down for an interview with The CJN, Freiman stressed that he spoke in his personal capacity and not on behalf of any organization.
He said the hate propaganda provisions in the Criminal Code, which are subject to a number of defences and limitations, makes them inadequate to properly address hate speech.
He suggested that in addition to a new federal law on hate speech, Ontario could add a similar provision to Sec. 13 to the Ontario Human Rights Code, as other provinces – such as British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta – already have.
Freiman said that while Canadians enjoy “expressive freedom,” that right must coexist with other values, including the equal worth and dignity of all human beings.
The Supreme Court of Canada has pronounced on the subject and ruled in favour of laws that limit free speech, he said.
The kind of hate speech he envisioned being addressed by new legislation would be “speech that expresses extreme detestation and ill will, that demonizes the object of the speech.” That sort of content goes beyond being merely offensive and has no redeeming value, he added.
Freiman discounted the argument made by free speech advocates who say that the best antidote to hate speech is countervailing speech in the marketplace of ideas. Given the prevalence of new technologies and the ability of extremist groups to grow quickly – he pointed to examples in Hungary and Poland – that premise has to be re-thought, he said.
“We need the ability to stand up to these conspiracy theories and manifestations of hate speech,” he told The CJN.
As to Freiman’s contention that hate speech is on the rise, according to Police-Reported Hate Crime, 2016, Statistics Canada’s most recent survey of hate crimes, police reported 1,409 such incidents in all of Canada, just 47 more than in 2015.
Those occurrences included harassment, assaults and mischief, such as property damage.
Jews were the single most targeted group, experiencing 221 hate-motivated crimes – more than blacks (214) and those targeted because of their sexual orientation (176).
Since comparable data became available in 2009, an average of 1,350 hate crime incidents have been reported annually, with a range of 1,167 at the low end and 1,482 at the high end. In 2016, police reported about 1.9 million crimes of all kinds across the country.