Jun. 13, 2012 - Issue #869: Quiet Heart
Free speech or hate speech
Wildrose call on changes to Canada Human Rights Act as precedent
The passing of Alberta MP Brian Storseth's amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act on June 6 has many conservatives cheering and the Wildrose party advocating a similar bill for Alberta. Bill C-304 removed section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 13 outlined what it is to discriminate against a specific group over the Internet or other telecommunication. The repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act leaves hate speech on the Internet in the realm of criminal law.
While human rights advocates are concerned over Bill C-304's impact on the ability to protect against hate speech, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith believes a similar change would make sense for free speech in Alberta. "Mr Storseth's bill is a great step forward at the federal level. I hope Ms Redford can show the same kind of leadership at the provincial level," said Smith in a release this week. During the PC leadership race last fall, Alison Redford stated in a response to a questionnaire by the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association that she would repeal Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, a section which mirrors the recently removed section 13 at the federal level.
Storseth argued section 13 was at odds with section 2(b) of the Charter, the right to freedom of expression. The Canadian Bar Association believes section 13 must be maintained due to its contribution against the promotion of hatred beyond the reaches of the criminal code. In its 2010 report Hate Speech under the Canada Human Rights Act the Canadian Bar Association states, "The social evil of promoting hatred against identifiable groups has not diminished in the past decade. Indeed, with the emergence of the Internet, its propagation has become more widespread and more sophisticated than in the past."
Storseth made clear in his introduction of the bill on May 30 that the criminal code maintains a defense against hate speech: "The continued use of the Criminal Code to address hate messaging would ensure that all individuals are protected from threatening, discriminatory acts while preserving the fundamental right to freedom of expression."
But according to the CBA, section 13 in human rights legislation means action can be taken on hate speech that falls short of the criminal definition found in the criminal code.
The CBA is also concerned this is the first attack on human rights tribunals. Human rights commissions regularly rule on issues of discrimination based on gender, race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. "In addition to their functions in investigating complaints and bringing those with a credible basis before the tribunal for adjudication," reads the report. "they have 'collaborative and educational responsibilities [that] afford [them] extensive awareness of the needs of the public, and extensive knowledge of developments in anti-discrimination law at the federal and provincial levels.'"
Although the Wildrose have no current plans to bring forward a similar amendment in a private members bill, there is a push by Justice minister Shane Saskiw on Redford to deliver the Justice minister's report on Section 3. The report was assigned by Redford in a mandate letter last November to Justice Minister Verlyn Olsen after Alison Redford's election as leader of the PCs.
The mandate letter specifically asked to "Assess the appropriateness of amending or repealing Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act." No similar request was in the mandate letter for the new Justice Minister Jonathan Denis. Saskiw had requested previous to the recent election that the report, if it exists to be brought forward.
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