Tuesday • 2012.02.28
C-304—An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom)
Summary: Bill C-304 seeks to repeal sections 13 and 54 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Decision: Christin Milloy would vote YEA on C-304. (41st Parliament, 1st Session)
The Canadian Human Rights Act (“the Act”) protects equal opportunities for individuals who might otherwise become victims of discriminatory practices, based on a set prohibited grounds such as gender, disability, or religion. It only covers certain types of activities, though, which are federally regulated by the Act.
Unfortunately, one section of the Act (section 13) takes things way too far; Section 13 of the Act, labelled “hate messages,” reads as follows:
13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons 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.
(2) For greater certainty, subsection (1) applies in respect of a matter that is communicated by means of a computer or a group of interconnected or related computers, including the Internet, or any similar means of communication, but does not apply in respect of a matter that is communicated in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a broadcasting undertaking.
(3) For the purposes of this section, no owner or operator of a telecommunication undertaking communicates or causes to be communicated any matter described in subsection (1) by reason only that the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking owned or operated by that person are used by other persons for the transmission of that matter.
Whoa. “To communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated?” And, “applies in respect of a matter that is communicated by means of a computer(…) including the Internet?”
In Canada, we have another document which supersedes the Human Rights Act. It’s called the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 2(b) of the Charter states that “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: … freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”
Under Section 13 of the Human Rights Act, any person can file a complaint against another person or group purely for communicating “hateful messages” against protected groups by phone or by Internet. As laid out in Section 54 of the Act, not only can respondents to Section 13 complaints be ordered to pay punitive monetary awards to the complainant, they can be (and have been) ordered to stifle and discontinue further expression of their opinions.
In my opinion, the restrictions laid out in Section 13, and the “orders related to hate messages” laid out in Section 54, constitute an unjustified breach of Canadians’ right to freedom of expression as laid out in section 2(b) of the Charter. Section 13 is unconstitutional.
Since Section 54 exists purely to describe the methods by which judgements and awards are made based on complaints raised under Section 13. Therefore with Section 13 gone, Section 54 must be removed as well.
Who have been targets of Section 13 complaints? Mainly they are groups and persons who express racist, homophobic, and other generally offensive views.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I personally believe those opinions are asinine, and a decent argument can be made that expressing them doeshurt the advancement of disadvantaged groups. But I have no business telling any Canadian how they can or cannot express; I believe in the constitutional freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Section 13 was originally introduced to address problems where hate groups in Toronto were robo-calling strangers, with offensive messages. Personally, I would like to see cases like that dealt with as harassment rather than as a supposed human rights violation.