The Liberals have introduced a bill to tackle online hate by amending Canada’s Criminal Code and Canadian Human Rights Act.
Bill C-36 would allow a person to appear before a provincial court, with the Attorney General’s consent, if the person fears that another will commit an offence “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other similar factor.”
Hate is defined in the bill as “the emotion that involves detestation or vilification and that is stronger than dislike or disdain,” but hatred is not incited solely because it “discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends.”
In addition, the bill would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to make it a “discriminatory practice” to communicate hate speech through the internet where it is “likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
It is an amended version of a controversial section that was repealed in 2013 amid criticism that it violated freedom of speech rights.
“These changes are designed to target the most egregious and clear forms of hate speech that can lead to discrimination and violence,” Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti said Wednesday.
“They do not target simple expressions of dislike or disdain that pepper everyday discourses, especially online.”
Lametti said the bill would improve the complaints process for victims of hate by allowing them to file a formal complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
Lametti said the bill would provide an avenue to reach those at high risk of being radicalized, and assured that he would “never play politics with our national security.”
The announcement referenced the attack on a Muslim London, Ont., family, which has been classified as a terrorist act.
The bill was introduced after the House of Commons adjourned for the summer, but Lametti said the government is “very much committed” to it and it will be reintroduced if the Liberals remain in power after a potential fall election.
However, the Conservatives question the timing of the bill’s introduction and say that the Liberals are only interested in “political posturing ahead of the next election.”
“This bill will not target hate speech — just ensure bureaucrats in Ottawa are bogged down with frivolous complaints about tweets,” Conservative Shadow Minister for Justice Rob Moore said in a statement. “The Trudeau Liberals are empowering a bureaucracy to subjectively restrict the rights of Canadians.”
In addition, the Canadian Constitution Foundation, which has the mission to defend the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians, said in a statement that the legislation “will impact the ability of Canadians to engage in debate on subjects that are unsettled.”
“This government, and the Heritage Minister in particular, have proven again and again that they are anti-free expression and anti-technology,” the statement read. “Giving government and unelected tribunal bureaucrats even greater control over Canadian’s expression will erode our fundamental rights.”
Nevertheless, Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef said the government needs to show it is serious about combating online hate, adding the timing of the bill’s tabling didn’t take away from that.
“The folks that I represent, the people who are fearful for their lives, need to hear that the government of Canada will be there for them and will do everything it can to protect their safety and security and democratic participation,” she said.
“It’s for them.”
-With files from the Canadian Press and Sean Boynton