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 If Section 13 is not repealed, which would require an act of Parliament, Prof.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.