MPs to examine hate-speech provisions of Canadian Human Rights Act
From Monday's Globe and Mail
February 9, 2009 at 4:28 AM EST
OTTAWA — The controversial section of the Canadian Human Rights Act governing hate speech comes under scrutiny today when federal politicians decide whether to debate the limits it places on freedom of expression.
Brian Storseth, a Conservative MP, has asked the Commons justice committee to review Section 13 of the act, which contains provisions that deal with hate messages. Mr. Storseth also wants the committee to review the mandate of the commission itself.
He told the committee last week that "concerns have been raised regarding the investigative techniques of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the interpretation and application of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act."
Mr. Storseth's request echoes a similar motion brought by the Conservatives during the previous session of Parliament.
The issue of whether the commission should be permitted to investigate alleged incidents of hate speech has prompted passionate responses from those on both sides of the debate.
The federal Conservatives voted at a party convention in November to support an end to Section 13, which deals specifically with hate messages spread by telephone or the Internet. It was a decision that was roundly applauded by conservative bloggers.
In a high-profile report on the matter released in November, University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon urged the commission to get out of the business of trying to censor hate speech.
Prof. Moon argued that freedom of expression trumps overbroad minority-rights laws and that any policing of hate messages should be handled under the Criminal Code, which prohibits willfully inciting hatred.
Jennifer Lynch, the chief human-rights commissioner, has promised to consult with the public regarding possible changes to the act and report to Parliament this year.
Proponents of Section 13 argue that hate speech should remain under the umbrella of human-rights legislation. The Canadian Jewish Congress, for instance, expressed disappointment in Prof. Moon's position, saying the Jewish community knows how devastating hate propaganda can be.
Liberal MP Brian Murphy said his party is not in favour of removing Section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights Act. "It is a unique tool for people who are being discriminated against and it's an added protection," he said.
There is a perception that certain human-rights commissioners at both the federal and provincial levels have been overzealous in going after people alleged to have disseminated hate speech, he said. "That doesn't mean that the act should be thrown out."
Joe Comartin, the NDP justice critic, said he opposes removing Section 13, but believes the act is a "blunt instrument" that requires significant amendments.
The mandate of the Canadian Human Rights Commission is not clear, Mr. Comartin said, and there must be better criteria for selecting commissioners to ensure that Section 13 is not used improperly. That would require an extensive review that could take some time, he said, and which would likely be postponed to allow the justice committee to deal with more pressing issues.
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