Canada repeals hate speech laws

June 11th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Montreal Gazette reports:

The Conservative government voted late Wednesday to repeal controversial sections of the Canadian Human Rights Act banning hate speech over the telephone or Internet.

 In a vote of 153 to 136, the majority Harper government supported a private member’s bill from Alberta Conservative MP Brian Storseth that would scrap Section 13 of the human rights code, which deals with complaints regarding “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.”

This is a good thing, and the excesses of what happened in should be top of mind if we consider any initiatives to “control” speech on the Internet here. People should face consequences for speech that causes actual harm such as economic or reputation loss (defamation), violence (Crimes Act) but trying too regulate political opinions – even extreme ones, is not good.

Storseth said the current human rights code allows too many frivolous cases to proceed against citizens, when the Criminal Code already covers hate speech that could generate harm against an individual or group.

Exactly – the focus should be on speech that generates actual harm.

Acts of hate speech are serious crimes that should be investigated by police officers, not civil servants, he said, and the cases should be handled by “real judges and real lawyers,” instead of a quasi-judicial body such as the human rights commission.

I’m not quite so sangine about the Police investigating. In the UK there have been some horrendous cases where school kids are prosecuted for using racially insensitive language.

New Democrat public-safety critic Randall Garrison said Wednesday that, due to the large number of hate crimes, the human-rights commission needs to have the power to combat the issue online and force individuals and groups to remove websites containing hateful speech.

I’m against this, even a ban on “hate speech” would see certain left blogs be banned :-)

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20 Responses to “Canada repeals hate speech laws”

  1. Manolo (13,753 comments) says:

    The same laws Mark Steyn has been fighting against. Good on the Canadian government.

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  2. Harriet (4,969 comments) says:

    Free speech doesn’t need “improving” by the State.

    Free Speech just is. Or isn’t, as the Left would have it if they got their way. :cool:

    Bottom Line:

    “…If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear..” – George Orwell

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  3. peterwn (3,271 comments) says:

    It is high time that human rights legislation starts protecting ordinary people. NZ’s human rights legislation together with various courts’ interpretations gives protection to those ‘exercising’ rights to the detriment of the rights of those who are inconvenienced or worse.

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  4. kowtow (8,443 comments) says:

    “…..hate speech are serious crime….” how utterly ridiculous.

    A bit of history on the issue in Britain.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9264748/Why-should-an-insult-be-against-the-law.html

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  5. Michael Mckee (1,091 comments) says:

    It doesn’t go far enough.

    A printer in Canada got prosecuted because he didn’t want to print invites for event he didn’t agree with.
    he got taken to court and fined under the hate crimes law.
    As a businessman he has the right to do business or not.

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  6. Michael Mckee (1,091 comments) says:

    Kowtow
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/9322404/Foreign-criminals-will-no-longer-be-able-to-argue-right-to-family-life-to-stay-in-Britain.html

    we need this here for our deportees who try and use every loop hole.

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  7. defende nos (6 comments) says:

    Maybe the Student Associations at Sydney and Auckland Universities should take notes and extend freedom of speech to the anti-abortion clubs instead of shutting them down as they are trying to do…

    Outrage as Australia’s oldest university approves its first-ever pro-life student group
    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/outrage-as-australias-oldest-university-approves-first-ever-pro-life-studen

    Anti-abortion club faces university ban
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/7041095/Anti-abortion-club-faces-university-ban

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  8. kowtow (8,443 comments) says:

    m mckee
    Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately the human rights/equality agenda has become so entrenched and unquestionable (to the elites in academia,political parties,media) that we are on a long slow road to self destruction.

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  9. defende nos (6 comments) says:

    Lol, there is a message on my previous comment saying ‘Your comment is awaiting moderation.’

    And this is a post criticising censorship…

    [DPF: Moderation is not censorship. And all first time posters are held in moderation as an anti-spam device. After one approved post, posting rights are automatic]

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  10. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    Michael Mckee (754) Says:
    June 11th, 2012 at 9:29 am


    As a businessman he has the right to do business or not.

    I presume you mean that to include shop signs that read “No Coloureds”.

    It’s his business so he has the right to do business with whomever he chooses. Right?

    edit: Point being, if it wasn’t obvious, that discrimination in offering commercial services is perhaps distinct from the right to express whatever point of view one chooses.

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  11. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    Harriet,


    Free Speech just is. Or isn’t, as the Left would have it if they got their way

    Free speech just is? Well no. As DPF made clear we generally already agree on regulations against the type of speech which is considered to be harmful including false statements which harm another person’s reputation. There are also other regulations which there is generally consensus on, including misleading advertisements for instance. Child pornography is another form of speech which is prohibited. Copyright legislation also limits speech.

    So clearly free speech isn’t just something that exists in its own right separate from legislative action. The government has a duty to determine what types of speech are harmful and to regulate and/or prohibit such speech appropriately to protect those who would otherwise be harmed.

    As for your naive belief that it is “the left” only which seeks to limit free speech then perhaps you can name some conservatives who would support removing prohibitions on “obscenity” which, as far as I can tell, require no actual harm other than to be disgusting to your average person.

    Take the Bush administration for example which actively engaged the Justice Department in prosecuting obscenity including the case of United States v Extreme Associates. But of course, for right-wingers living in the bubble they are either ignorant of the efforts conservatives advance to limit speech or conveniently regard conservative attempts to limit speech as “different”.

    Personally, when a prosecutor advances a case on the basis that:

    “The material depicted in the videotapes produced by Extreme Associates is extremely vile, degrading and extremely offensive to women”

    …then they are advancing nothing more than a thought crime which is exactly what conservatives routinely accuse the left of doing when they attempt to prohibit hate speech.

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  12. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    we generally already agree on regulations against the type of speech which is considered to be harmful including false statements which harm another person’s reputation.

    People can be defamed as members of groups rather than individually. For example, false claims conflating homosexuality with paedophilia defame homosexuals and false claims about Jewish conspiracies defame Jews. There’s no good moral reason why this should not be treated the same way as other defamatory comments.

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  13. F E Smith (3,305 comments) says:

    Weihana,

    Nice fudge, but we are talking about political speech, which the left is always happy to restrict. While you make valid points about the obscenity laws, those do not have the chilling effect upon the political process that the Canadian law under discussion here had.

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  14. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    Tom Jackson,

    People can be defamed as members of groups rather than individually. For example, false claims conflating homosexuality with paedophilia defame homosexuals and false claims about Jewish conspiracies defame Jews. There’s no good moral reason why this should not be treated the same way as other defamatory comments.

    I disagree, not least because the supposed harm you presume to exist is so indirect that such regulations on speech would have a severe and chilling effect on the freedom to engage in open discussion. Defamation itself is a questionable limitation on speech but it is generally defined in such a way that it does not limit one’s ability to hold an opinion. Indeed that a statement was merely opinion is a generally agreed upon defense to a claim of defamation.

    The standards in defamation cases are high precisely because it walks dangerously close to infringing upon the freedom to engage in open discussion. But you want to reduce these standards extensively such that people can’t have opinions which you have deemed unacceptable (e.g. on gays, jews etc.). I’m of the view that just because you find it morally objectionable is no basis to restrict the ability of people to hold such opinions.

    The supposed harm you presume to exist is little more than the fact that such people may persuade other people to hold opinions you don’t like. If this is the standard we are to apply then we do not have freedom of speech at all for if freedom of speech does not include the freedom to persuade people towards any point of view then it means nothing at all.

    If one of the resident conservative fruits comes on here and says that homosexuals are paedophiles no reasonable person could believe that they know each and every homosexual and are issuing a statement of fact that they know each and every homosexual is a paedophile. Rather, the nature of the statement would inherently mean that they are providing nothing more than an opinion. It may be an idiotic and disagreeable opinion but it is nevertheless JUST AN OPINION.

    When there are real injustices against homosexuals and other groups I don’t think it does well to dwell on hateful opinions on the spurious basis that such opinions are harmful and should be prohibited. We would do better to simply fix the injustices: e.g. provide marriage equality, promote educational initiatives to reduce bullying etc.

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  15. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    F E Smith (1,783) Says:
    June 11th, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Weihana,

    Nice fudge, but we are talking about political speech, which the left is always happy to restrict. While you make valid points about the obscenity laws, those do not have the chilling effect upon the political process that the Canadian law under discussion here had.

    Why do you consider obscenity distinct from political speech? Ultimately obscene material communicates a political message and it is that political message that is being targeted. Indeed the prosecutor in the obscenity case didn’t prosecute because it involved adults engaging in sex acts on film, but rather the message that the film communicated was “vile, degrading and extremely offensive”. That makes it perfectly clear that the prosecution was motivated by the idea being communicated by the material and as such is a clear attack on the right to communicate a political message.

    Such action by the justice department may not have resulted in the same kind of frivolous cases being taken but that simply goes to the type of content which is being prohibited, i.e. there are more people out there making speech which is “hateful” then there are disgusting pornographers.

    But freedom of speech is the freedom to hold any opinion, not merely opinions other people agree with. If an opinion is held by just one person then that opinion deserves just as much protection as the opinions of everyone else, even if it is vile, degrading and offensive.

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  16. F E Smith (3,305 comments) says:

    Tom Jackson,

    Not only has Weihana shown why you are wrong, but your point has been considered by common law courts around the world and they disagree with you as well.

    Defamation is there to protect an individual’s reputation from falsehood. Personal opinions (which make up the examples you give) are protected unless malicious. Groups don’t qualify, and not should they.

    Go and read the case law for some very learned discussion on the subject.

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  17. Tom Jackson (2,553 comments) says:

    The law is not much help, since it can only tell us what the law is, and not really what it ought to be. The latter is a moral question, which demands a different kind of argument (especially since legal inertia renders the law silly in this sort of case).

    I disagree, not least because the supposed harm you presume to exist is so indirect that such regulations on speech would have a severe and chilling effect on the freedom to engage in open discussion.

    And herein lies a mistake. You are arguing as a free speech fundamentalist, when proponents of hate speech codes are more or less calling that into question. You’re simply ignoring the fact that extreme hate speech is a genuine harm to its targets. Freedom of speech is typically held to matter more to people on the sidelines, rather than those who are the victims of hate, for whom it is matters a great deal. It’s all very well for you to pontificate about the sanctity of free speech when Fred Phelps isn’t hollering “death to fags” outside your loved one’s funeral. Freedom of expression is valuable, but it is not a universal trump.

    But you want to reduce these standards extensively such that people can’t have opinions which you have deemed unacceptable (e.g. on gays, jews etc.). I’m of the view that just because you find it morally objectionable is no basis to restrict the ability of people to hold such opinions.

    This is a patently ridiculous argument. Using the same logic I could claim that the fact you personally think that it is morally objectionable to restrict speech is no reason not to do so. See how that works? My point was not that I personally disagree with what they say, but that people need to take responsibility for harms they inflict on others, and that speech can itself be harmful.

    Claiming that opinion is a defense just shows what a confused muddle the law is. It’s common sense to hold that you need to be careful what you say when there is the prospect of harm. For example, if you are going to publicly accuse someone of cheating on their wife, you better make sure you have evidence of that, as mouthing off like that for no reason is irresponsible and damaging. Defending speech on the grounds that it is mere opinion is daft, since you should not be mouthing off accusations at people if all you have is mere opinion. And if you’re going to say that what counts as reasonable is itself a matter of opinion, then we can say the same about free speech rights.

    In the end, people like you are claiming that free speech will end if Fred Phelps is prevented from picketing funerals. This is the worst kind of slippery slope argument. Give the human race some credit: we can generally distinguish someone trying to make a reasoned point from someone who is just stirring up hate against minorities. It’s funny how hate speech laws have to be absolutely perfect and incapable of misapplication when hardly any other law meets that standard.

    A law that made egregious forms of hate speech illegal would do very little to stop reasonable people from disagreeing about religion or homosexuality. It would do plenty to stop unreasonable people, but that’s the point of such codes.

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  18. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    Tom Jackson (33) Says:
    June 11th, 2012 at 3:19 pm

    You are arguing as a free speech fundamentalist, when proponents of hate speech codes are more or less calling that into question. You’re simply ignoring the fact that extreme hate speech is a genuine harm to its targets. Freedom of speech is typically held to matter more to people on the sidelines, rather than those who are the victims of hate, for whom it is matters a great deal. It’s all very well for you to pontificate about the sanctity of free speech when Fred Phelps isn’t hollering “death to fags” outside your loved one’s funeral. Freedom of expression is valuable, but it is not a universal trump.

    I’m not sure what it means to be a free speech fundamentalist. I do believe it is fundamental to a civil society and democratic government. But I’ve already acknowledged that free speech requires regulation of harmful speech thus I don’t accept that I am providing a knee-jerk reaction to any suggestion of regulating speech.

    If you believe “extreme hate speech” causes harm then I suggest that you make a decent argument demonstrating such harm. So far you’ve only made a vague reference to homosexuals and paedophilia and Jews and conspiracies but have not shown how this is harmful. It would seem that there is a presumption that if others adopt such points of view then that, in and of itself, constitutes harm. Such an approach, however, undermines the very notion of free expression since the inherent purpose of political speech is to convey a message to someone in order to influence them.

    The example of Fred Phelps would not appear to be relevant in this context. Yelling “death to fags” outside a funeral would seem to raise issues of time and place and whether his expression is interfering with the right of others to peacefully go about their lawful business. The statement “death to fags” is not one that defames anyone. The issue there would seem to be harassment or possibly threatening behavior. Certainly if his speech was confined to an internet website then there would be no basis to suggest that the funeral goers had been unreasonably disturbed.

    I agree with you that free speech is not a universal trump. But the only valid restrictions are where the speech is harmful. Being offended does not demonstrate harm per se and I do not see that you have demonstrated any harm that is not based on vague generalities.

    Claiming that opinion is a defense just shows what a confused muddle the law is. It’s common sense to hold that you need to be careful what you say when there is the prospect of harm. For example, if you are going to publicly accuse someone of cheating on their wife, you better make sure you have evidence of that, as mouthing off like that for no reason is irresponsible and damaging. Defending speech on the grounds that it is mere opinion is daft, since you should not be mouthing off accusations at people if all you have is mere opinion.

    Accusing someone of cheating on their wife is not mere opinion.

    In the end, people like you are claiming that free speech will end if Fred Phelps is prevented from picketing funerals.

    People like me? Are we well acquainted? :)

    I would say that if a person is prohibited from picketing on a public sidewalk about a public issue on the basis of emotional distress then I do think freedom of speech has been infringed upon. But whether or not Phelp’s picketing was in fact a disturbance to the funeral goers is a question of fact and I wasn’t there. If it is true that they were outside the cemetery, on a public sidewalk, barely visible from the ceremony, then I’m inclined to side with the 8 justices that ruled in favour of Phelps in Snyder v Phelps.

    Give the human race some credit: we can generally distinguish someone trying to make a reasoned point from someone who is just stirring up hate against minorities.

    A “reasoned point? So freedom of speech only includes that which you deem reasoned? I thought you said earlier that it was about harm, but now it’s about only tolerating that which is reasonable. Who gets to decide what is reasonable? Does some authority get to decide that question for everyone else?

    I give the human race credit that we have done well to establish a system of laws that works on principle rather than the arbitrary whims of individual rulers. It is a very important principle that speech only be restricted on the basis of demonstrable harm. Human society has a long history of oppression and closed-mindedness fostered by laws which favoured certain opinions while outlawing others. We have a relatively short history where free speech has been protected and this has fostered an open society where people feel free to express any idea they like to stand or fall on its own merits.

    It’s funny how hate speech laws have to be absolutely perfect and incapable of misapplication when hardly any other law meets that standard.

    I have applied the same standard to obscenity laws.

    Moreover, I’m not arguing that hate speech laws are imperfect. I’m saying they are fundamentally flawed and the purpose of their design is precisely to punish points of view that are deemed disagreeable in an effort to engineer public opinion.

    The notion that hate speech is harmful is spurious and based on a presumption that if others are persuaded to agree with the “hate speech” then that constitutes harm. It is a fundamental undermining of free expression and can be applied to any speech. Republican policies “harm” minorities and the poor. Democratic policies “harm” businesses and economic growth. Therefore speech advocating such policies is harmful. When you reduce the concept of “harm” to this level then you can prohibit just about anything.

    A law that made egregious forms of hate speech illegal would do very little to stop reasonable people from disagreeing about religion or homosexuality. It would do plenty to stop unreasonable people, but that’s the point of such codes.

    What is “reasonable” changes from person to person. Denying the absolute truth of the bible was once upon a time unreasonable and to many it still is. Questioning the flatness of the earth was once entirely unreasonable but today is generally held to be an undisputed fact.

    Freedom of expression is about fostering a market place of ideas where individuals get to decide the merits of an argument FOR THEMSELVES. They do not need you, or your elected representative, telling them what’s a reasonable argument.

    While you started off arguing that hate speech laws are about the harm they cause, clearly you have conceded the true purpose of their design by so openly admitting that you seek to permit only “reasonable people” to have an opinion.

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  19. F E Smith (3,305 comments) says:

    Weihana,

    sorry I didn’t get back to this yesterday. Just briefly, because KB has moved on, I would simply note that a civil and democratic society should put as few restrictions on speech (of any sort) as possible. The restrictions that are acceptable must be able to be justified robustly as being imperative, not merely desireable.

    The main justification on free speech is where there is a direct incitement to physical harm, or actual harm, to an individual, or their reputation, if the attack on their reputation is false. A group is not eligible for such protections, for a number of reasons that I won’t expand on here. So we restrict people from inciting violence against individuals. That is not the same as saying that a political opinion may lead to violence.

    The creation of child pornography, in the view of society, is actual harm to the child. The creation of some other forms of obsenity also results in actual harm. I know there are nuances, but that is a general reason. Some political speech is just as unpalatable as child porn, but it should be allowed because is political and not obscene. Hence, the Phelps group picketing funerals is, in my view, acceptable no matter how much I think it inappropriate and offensive.

    However, I do not agree with you that obsenity is political speech. Most pornography, of whatever sort, is commercial speech. Political speech is of a different character, although they may sometimes overlap. So a restriction on the expression of opinion is far worse than restriction on pornography.

    And nobody can ever prevent your freedom of thought. That is impossible. It is possible to restrict freedom of the expression of that thought, and that is what is under discussion here.

    Also, I didn’t realise that it was once an offence to deny the earth was flat. Could you point me in the direction of that law, please? It would make an amusing addition to my collection of legal anecdotes.

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  20. Weihana (4,537 comments) says:

    F E Smith (1,790) Says:
    June 12th, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    However, I do not agree with you that obsenity is political speech. Most pornography, of whatever sort, is commercial speech. Political speech is of a different character, although they may sometimes overlap. So a restriction on the expression of opinion is far worse than restriction on pornography.

    True it is commercial speech, but I’m not sure it is the commercial aspect of the speech that is being targeted by regulation and restriction.

    Commercial vehicles can be an effective way to communicate a political message and as you say the two forms of speech can overlap. I would point to movies which are primarily a commercial endeavour but nevertheless can have significant impacts on public opinion and attitudes.

    If people tried to ban The Life of Brian because some people find the underlying message “obscene” would we ignore it just because the movie was a commercial enterprise? Of course not, so for me this categorization of certain material as obscene simply seems subjective and an attack on the content of someone’s opinion and not necessarily tied to whether or not the speech causes harm. It’s one thing to consider child pornography “obscene” because it involves harming a child, but it’s quite another to consider something obscene simply because one finds the idea obscene.

    From what I’ve read about the prosecution of Extreme Associates it seems that the prosecution was motivated by the message that the films communicated, not by any commercial aspect of its distribution.

    Also, I didn’t realise that it was once an offence to deny the earth was flat. Could you point me in the direction of that law, please? It would make an amusing addition to my collection of legal anecdotes.

    Heh. I didn’t say there was a law, I have no idea. But point being that what is reasonable changes from time to time, from place to place, from person to person. The idea that free expression only pertains to what is considered “reasonable” would seem to suggest some authority which decides the reasonableness of ideas rather than allowing individuals the freedom to decide themselves in an environment where any idea can be promoted.

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