By Stefan Rinas
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) applauds the passage into law of Bill C-304, and with it the repeal of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The private member's bill was sponsored by Westlock – St. Paul MP Brian Storseth, and will come into force June 26, 2014, one year following its gaining royal assent.
Section 13 had made it a discriminatory practice to “communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated…by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking…any matter that is likely to expose a person or person 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.” Previously challenged as unconstitutional in Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor, Section 13’s repeal was suggested in a 2008 report by University of Windsor Law Professor Richard Moon in response to a request by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
By repealing Section 13, Parliament has affirmed the importance of the Criminal Code as a basis for prosecuting hate speech. CJFE advocated such a development in our 2012/2013 Review of Free Expression in Canada. In the article Truth is Not a Defence, CJFE board members Peter Jacobsen and Nadine Touma wrote: “The criminal law process establishes a wide variety of carefully calibrated offenses and penalties, designed to assure proportionality between each offense and the penalty imposed.” Section 13 will also reduce the role of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in handling hate speech-based complaints. This furthers the view set out in the same article that the courts, due to their expertise, are better equipped to handle questions relating to hate speech.
Finally, Section 13 represented an unjustifiable encroachment on freedom of expression. Bill C-304 brings the legal regime regulating hate speech in Canada into closer accord with the views of CJFE. Truth is Not a Defence describes those views as follows: “CJFE asserts that the use of censorship by the state must be confined to the restricted category of harmful expression that threatens (or advocates or justifies) violence or hatred against the members of an identifiable group.”