Monday, February 9, 2009

Section 13 of the Human Rights Act should be reviewed.

I just read in the Globe and Mail that the House of Commons Justice Committee is going to review section 13 of the Human Rights Act.  The act deals with hate messages.  There have been many suggestions that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has been overzealous in it's application of this law and some claim it is an infringement on free speech.

Opponents of section 13 (The governing Conservative party among them) claim that the sections in the Criminal Code on hate speech are more than sufficient and that the Human Rights Commission should not be covering hate speech at all.  They say there is plenty of protection in the Criminal Code and that this section 13 simply is overkill.

Other groups say that it isn't.  Namely the Canadian Jewish Congress.  They argue that more protection is better.  

Others, such as New Democratic Justice Critic Joe Comartin say that the section should be kept but he admits that the application of that section has been overzealous.  

My point of view is that we should review the legislation and how it is enforced to determine if we are striking a fair balance between freedom of expression and speech likely to incite violence.  The latter is covered convincingly under the Criminal Code (I don't have the section off the top of my head) but there is not a whole lot stopping hateful speech which is not likely to cause violence or incite genocide.  

On the one hand, I think society must have good values and there is a role for the justice system in ensuring that people are free from discrimination.  On the other hand, curtailing freedom of speech has to be treated with great caution.  So, I'm very much in favour of a Parliamentary review.  Reasonable non-partisans like Joe Comartin will help to ensure that it's done properly.  He is the guy who actually stood up for the Liberals a bit right before the last election because the Conservatives were lying, and Joe doesn't like lies even if they benefit his party.  

For your reading pleasure, I've included the section that is to be review.  For the full document from the Justice department, click here.

Hate messages

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.


(2) For greater certainty, subsection (1) applies in respect of a matter that is communicated by means of a computer or a group of interconnected or related computers, including the Internet, or any similar means of communication, but does not apply in respect of a matter that is communicated in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a broadcasting undertaking.


(3) For the purposes of this section, no owner or operator of a telecommunication undertaking communicates or causes to be communicated any matter described in subsection (1) by reason only that the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking owned or operated by that person are used by other persons for the transmission of that matter.

R.S., 1985, c. H-6, s. 13; 2001, c. 41, s. 88.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it is problematic that the government gets involved in social engineering. I don't really care if people hate or how they express it. As long as they are not directly causing violence let them show their ignorance. What I have seen in Canada is an effort by some groups to limit ideas and discourse using the hate laws as a weapon to silence views they don't like.