Monday, June 23, 2008

GLOBE AND MAIL: Repeal Section 13 (Too wide a net for hate)



Too wide a net for hate

Hate is a subject that the Canadian Human Rights Commission wisely wishes to think about. A law professor at the University of Windsor, Richard Moon, will write a wide-ranging report for the CHRC, to come out in October, on "the most appropriate mechanisms for addressing hate messages."

In her announcement of this policy review on Tuesday, Jennifer Lynch, the Chief Commissioner, unmistakably alluded to the debate over three human-rights complaints against Maclean's magazine about "The future belongs to Islam," an article in 2006 by Mark Steyn. There is no hearing date yet for the proceeding at the CHRC; the complaint in B.C. has been heard but not decided; while the Ontario one failed for lack of jurisdiction, the commission joined in the accusation by way of press release.

The Canada Human Rights Act deals with hate in a section that was originally about telephone "hate messages." But in December, 2001, the Anti-Terrorism Act made clear that Internet communications were covered. Of course, Internet publication now largely overlaps with print media. An enactment that once dealt, for example, with a phone number that one could call to hear a recorded "white power message" now looms over the whole of the press in Canada.

Like its sibling in the B.C. Human Rights Code (at the core of the Maclean's hearing in Vancouver earlier this month), section 13 of the federal statute is aimed at what is "likely to expose" people to hatred or contempt because of ethnicity, religion and other specified factors. Evidence of such a likelihood - in the absence of a solid science of mass psychology on which to base expert testimony - is bound to be dubious, and there are no defences of the kind found in civil lawsuits about damage to reputation, such as fair comment.

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