Canada May Repeal Hate Speech Laws

The Canadian parliament may repeal at least a portion of that country’s hate speech laws, which I’ve been a staunch critic of for years. The Huffington Post has a pretty badly slanted article that focuses on the fact that white supremacists support the repeal. Here’s what the legislation would do:

Bill C-304, introduced by Conservative backbencher Brian Storseth, repeals Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which bans hate speech transmitted over the Internet or by telephone. It passed third reading in the House of Commons on Thursday and is now headed to the Senate…

The new law doesn’t make hate speech legal on the web or by phone — hate speech remains illegal under the Criminal Code. But by removing it from the Canadian Human Rights Act, it takes away the authority of the country’s human rights commissions to investigate online hate speech and request that violating websites be taken down.

But reading this article, you’d think that the only people who oppose such laws are white supremacists and right wingers:

A Conservative private members’ bill that repeals part of Canada’s hate speech laws has passed the House of Commons with scant media attention, and even less commentary. But it’s being cheered by many Canadian conservatives as a victory for freedom of speech. And it’s being cheered most vocally by another group: White supremacists…

“This is a huge victory for freedom in Canada,” a poster calling him or herself “CanadaFirst” posted on the website of StormFront, a notorious white supremacist group. “However, we still have other unjust Zionist ‘hate’ laws that need to go.”

“Way to go, Harper. I know we can’t get everything we want, but I stand a little taller today as a Canuck,” wrote “OneMan.”

Okay, but so what? The American Nazi Party undoubtedly cheered the court’s ruling in the Skokie case, but so did the Jewish attorney representing them for the ACLU. The KKK no doubt loves the fact that the courts have protected their right to protest, but so does every civil libertarian in the country. Stormfront may want this law repealed, but so did Christopher Hitchens, who argued vociferously against them.

This is part of a very old slander of civil libertarians that, ironically, started with the right wing. When the ACLU defended communists, they were accused of being communists (and still are to this day). When they defended the free speech rights of NAMBLA, they were accused of being pedophiles. But this does not even begin to argue against the civil libertarian position, nor is it a rational accusation to make. If you believe in free speech, you have to defend it even when exercised by those whose views you hate.

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  • d cwilson

    Canada’s hate speech law definitely went too far in stifling free speech. Although I do appreciate the irony of rightwing fascist groups that would happily take away everyone else’s right to free speech claiming their own free speech rights, just because they will benefit from it is not enough of a reason to stifle everyone else’s speech as well.

    The Huffington Post has a pretty badly slanted article

    Huffpost ran a badly slanted article? No way!

  • Bah. It’s just another example of the Harper regime dismantling Canada bit by bit.

  • throwaway
  • erk12

    I’m conflicted. This does seem to eliminate overlapping laws, which is good; but I’m always suspicious of what the current clowns in gov’t are doing. Then again, I should be suspicious of every clown in gov’t.

  • interrobang

    If the CRAP’s core constituency are happy about it, then there’s probably something bad lurking in there. Also, if it means we have to take Ernst Zundel back, forget about it; he can continue rotting in a German prison.

    Personally, I’m a big believer in affording white supremacists only a few more rights than they would afford me — since I’d be on the first carload of deportees to their Konzentrazionschlagers in their utopia (for being disabled, a feminist, and a “race traitor”), I’m willing to allow them to continue being hateful freaks in private, but not, frankly, much more than that.

    And no, I’m not a free speech absolutist, thank you. I think particularly in Canada, where everybody is a minority and all the white people are most definitely not from here, it’s worth more to try to keep society together than to allow Nazis to be Nazis in public. We’ll just agree to disagree about that.

  • I’d feel a lot better about this if they weren’t actively dismantleing so many other things, like our environmental protections…

  • Wow, this is getting like, zero coverage up here — the CBC is more worried about the omnibus budget bill (which contains a metric fucktonne of stuff only tenuously related to “budget” on the grounds that, well, everything has a money angle to it in some way). Repealing hate speech laws is likely to be the only thing Harper’s theocons do that I will ever have a chance of agreeing with. Of course, considering the language ministers of the Crown have used to describe opponents of govt policy lately, they may be worried about getting charged themselves some day….

  • garywalsh

    This from the same government that insists that you are a child pornographer if you object to warrentless online surveillance and that won’t let government funded scientists to speak freely on their research if it happens to contradict the governments corporate controlled propaganda.

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    The Huffington Post has a pretty badly slanted article

    One of many reasons why I refuse to read HuffPo.

  • Olav

    Interrobang, #5, the word you are looking for is Konzentrationslager

    Apart from that, I am fully einverstanden with your reply. Despite what the free speech fundamentalists say it is not unreasonable to be pragmatic about the issue and to take regional/historical/cultural factors into account.

    Those fundamentalists will usually admit they draw the line at “incitement of violence”. Or, “shouting FIRE in a crowded room”. So even in their own minds free speech is not always an absolute. It can be conditional, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  • ischemgeek

    The issue with the hate speech laws w/ regard to the human rights commissions is that the human rights commissions apply the letter, but not the spirit, of the law. This law was intended to prevent people from saying stuff like “All [insert racial slur here]s deserve to die!”

    Instead, because of its vague wording prohibiting “telephonic or Internet communication that is likely to expose the members of an identifiable group to hatred or contempt” (Moon,2008) and the fact that truth is not a defense and intent is not considered by the Commission, you get abuses. Further, third parties can file complaints about situations that they were not harmed by and get recompense regardless.

    Richard Moon, a professor with the University of Windsor, was commissioned to prepare a report on the application of the hate speech section in question. It’s long, but I think it’s required reading on this issue.

  • brianswann

    It’s very important to consider context and the source of any legislation proposed by the Canadian Conservative Party. I look on all conspiracy theories with a jaundiced eye but, the similar nature of the Harper government and the Republican state Governors in the U.S. is chilling. There almost appears to be direct north south connection in these far right parties clear up to questionable robo calls using Republican linked companies in the U.S. during our last election. We’ve done away with a long gun registry that every police agency in the country found important and useful. Abortion and religious issues rise to the fore in the House of Commons. I believe proposal of free speech legislation by a Tory backbencher is not simply a libertarian move and we need to question the motive.

  • ischemgeek


    I’m very unhappy with our current government and view pretty much everything they do with suspicion, but I frankly think the benefit might outweigh the potential harm for this one. Might. Depends on how they word the bill and choose to apply it.