Monday, November 24, 2008

Moon Report: CHRC consultant stirs up debate over hate speech in Canada...

I'm not sure yet how to react to today's report by Professor Richard Moon, who conducted a review of the Canadian Human Rights Commission's (CHRC) procedures regarding hate speech.

In his report, Prof. Moon calls for the repeal of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which allows the CHRC to investigate and prosecute hate speech within the federal government's jurisdiction. If Section 13 is not repealed, which would require an act of Parliament, Prof. Moon recommends that Section 13 be changed to more closely resemble criminal prohibitions on hate speech.

"The use of censorship by the government should be confined to a narrow category of extreme expression - that which threatens, advocates or justifies violence against the members of an identifiable group, even if the violence that is supported or threatened is not imminent," Dr. Moon writes in his report.

The rightwing media and blogosphere have already had a field day today. And rightly so, as this report is a sort of victory for them.

I find myself mostly in agreement with Warren and the Canadian Jewish Congress that full removal of Section 13 is probably unwise. I'm wary of Prof. Moon's primary recommendation that Canada abandon the civil approach to combating Internet hate. If this were done, citizens abused by bigots would have to rely on police and Attorneys General to initiate prosecutions of hate speech. As we have seen, they are frequently reluctant to do so. Even less frequently do we get criminal convictions.

More realistic is Dr. Moon's recommendations for tightening up the procedures around Section 13, if outright removal isn't done. I do agree with his suggestion that only "extreme expression - that which threatens, advocates or justifies violence against the members of an identifiable group, even if the violence that is supported or threatened is not imminent" be targeted by our country's hate laws.

So while I see the wisdom in Dr. Moon's primary recommendation, I am worried that it constitutes a major retreat in the ongoing battle against hate speech in our society. Is it enough to simply have a criminal law on the books that outlaws hateful speech that promotes violence against an identifiable group, when that law is rarely if ever prosecuted? When people like David Popescu can advocate the genocide of gay people and walk away (thus far) free from prosecution?

The debate over this issue continues. For more on this, check out these two great posts.

3 comments:

KC said...

Prof. Moon's primary recommendation that Canada abandon the civil approach to combating Internet hate. If this were done, citizens abused by bigots would have to rely on police and Attorneys General to initiate prosecutions of hate speech.

By this logic shouldnt we have a "civil approach" for other crimes (assault, murder, etc.) so that we dont have to wait for cops and prosecutors to act?

Ive always agreed that hate speech is an issue that has to be dealt with by law, but I dont understand how it got elevated in importance above all the other crimes we face in society that frankly seem more important than preventing hate speech.

WesternGrit said...

KC, the problem is that hate speech can incite genocide and ethnic "cleansing" (and has - including very recently). The other acts are more "solitary". There needs to be more focus on hate crimes, if they are inciting violence against a group.

Having said that, I think that hate crime, most of the time - by it's very nature - implores people to strike out against a group. This is because it singles out one group. This is more dangerous than just taunts or insults. A swastika on a synogogue is more than just "social commentary" as some right wing zealots would have one believe. It is a call for something much uglier - based on recent history.

The same holds true for hate crimes against gay people. We recently had some very public and violent attacks against gay men in Calgary and Vancouver. This is something both the police AND the HRC need to be involved in.

I think that HRCs should work hand in hand with police on pointing out and investigating hate-crimes. Matt makes a solid point about police reluctance to act on certain crimes. Just look at how many openly gay police officers there are, and my point is made. Police shrink away from domestics, and it has been found statistically that women officers are more likely to intervene than male officers in domestics. Most Canadian police forces are very predominantly male and white. Diversity is beginning to happen, but it will take a while.

I recall - not too fondly - an incident outside a nightclub in Regina, where a fight broke out, two officers grabbed one of my Jamaican friends, tossed him in the back of a car and made a comment about "getting you guys", when he hadn't even been involved in the situation (he was a quiet, cerebral university student). WE have seen problems in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, and Vancouver, when considering police responses to minority situations (be it women, gay people, or visible minorities - including - especially - First Nations). We have a ways to go before the police are 100% fair to everyone they help. We cannot rely solely on these forces to advocate or speak for women and minorities. Police forces are doing a great job in talking about diversity... they just need to act on their words.

KC said...

Western Grit - For every hate crime there are hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of instances of hate speech. For every instance of assault against a person there is one persons assaulted. The link between hateful expression and hate crimes is far less direct than the link between criminal actions and criminal outcomes. If the link between the latter is "solitary" the link between the former is "fractional".

If you are so concerned about having police to prosecute the offences move the HRC bureaucrats over to a special unit to assist in law enforcement. That is not an argument in favour of a weak standard, and lack of proper due process.