Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hate speech made easier in Canada, thanks to the Harper Conservatives

Third reading passage of a Conservative private member's bill, Bill C304, this past week got little media attention. The bill, by Alberta Tory MP Brian Storseth, repeals sections of the Canadian Human Rights Act banning hate speech over the telephone or internet. The Harperites voted 153 to 136 to back the bill. Only one Liberal MP, Scott Simms, voted for it as well.

Storseth and others who have never truly been victimized by hate propaganda have argued that existing Criminal Code provisions should be adequate for addressing hate propaganda in this country.

But Storseth's own backgrounder on his bill admits that one of the concerns raised by supporters of the existing Human Rights Act provisions dealing with hate speech is that the Criminal Code requires consent of an Attorney General before charges can be laid against hatemongers. In reality, this provision has led many police forces across Canada to hesitate to investigate such crimes, concerned prosecutions will be greatly hindered if not impossible to get processed. Thus, few police forces have dedicated many resources to fighting hate speech. Why would they if charges are so difficult to get?

But of course, true to Tory form, Storseth's bill completely ignores the fact that the Criminal Code has been largely ineffective in combating hate speech.

Even more troubling, Storseth's bill strips victims of any recourse in fighting back against criminals. Seems strange for Tories to take the side of criminals against victims, until you remember that Tories only tend to worry about victims who look, love and live just like them. No, they're more concerned about standing up for the rights of religious bigots who feel hurt or censored by laws that protect victims from their hate.

If this bill gets royal assent and passes into law, victims of hate propaganda will be stripped of one major venue for taking action against criminals. Now we will have to hope that police investigators not only recognize hate speech, but feel confident in criminal convictions following consent for charges by Attorneys General.

Thus, hate speech could get much much easier to get away with in Canada, thanks to Harper's Conservatives.

Warren Kinsella makes an excellent point in his article that he favours 'citizen-based advocacy, with no human rights commissions or Criminal Code provisions being necessary at all.'

Kinsella advocates that instead of repealing parts of the Human Rights Act or keeping cumbersome Criminal Code provisions that never seem to amount to anything, we should, "Make it easier for identifiable groups to sue for defamation; that is the best way for a society to express itself. When that was done in Oregon in the 1990s with the White Aryan Resistance, it put them out of business. They have never recovered. That is always the way to go: Citizen-based advocacy."

I couldn't agree more with Kinsella.

Today, if a religious bigot wants to spread pamphlets that read, "Matt Guerin is a pedophile," I can currently sue that bigot for defamation and I would win considerable damages in court.

But if a religious bigot spreads pamphlets (as they often do) that read, "All homosexuals are pedophiles," neither I nor any other gay man can take any action against them, except to complain to a human rights commission. But if Storseth gets his way, we will lose that option and will have to hope that police investigate such crimes and manage to win the attention of Attorneys General, who may or may not find the time in their busy schedules to authorize prosecutions. Meaning, vulnerable groups could get all the more vulnerable.

If the hate speech provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act are to be repealed, those changes must also allow police to charge criminals without getting permission from Attorneys General. But clearly the Tories don't really care about fighting this kind of crime.

Regardless, we should change our defamation laws to allow members of groups attacked by hatemongers to launch class action libel lawsuits for damages. I shouldn't have to live in a society where my reputation is attacked by bigots who are unaccountable for their libel.

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