November 24, 2008 / 10:28 PM / in 10 years

Take hate speech out of Canada rights code: report

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Hate-speech provisions should be cut out of Canadian human rights law because they end up leading to government repression, a report commissioned by the Canadian Human Rights Commission recommended on Monday.

The commission launched the study after taking criticism for investigating cases seen as threatening the freedom of the press. In one such complaint, from the Canadian Islamic Congress, Maclean’s magazine was accused of subjecting Muslims to hate speech for publishing an article by journalist Mark Steyn that said Muslims were set to swamp the West.

The commission dismissed that complaint, but Maclean’s said it had been forced to spend large amounts in legal fees to defend itself, which it could not get back.

Richard Moon, a University of Windsor expert on the constitutional protection of freedom of expression, wrote the hate-speech report for the commission — an arms-length government body set up to investigate and try to settle complaints of discrimination.

“Any attempt to exclude from public discourse speech that stereotypes or defames members of an identifiable group would require extraordinary intervention by the state and would dramatically compromise the public commitment to freedom of expression,” Moon wrote.

“The use of censorship by the government should be confined to narrow category of extreme expression — that which threatens, advocates or justifies violence...,” he wrote, adding this was adequately covered by Canada’s Criminal Code.

Steyn reacted on his website: “I like the word ‘censorship’ here. Instead of the great wobbling blancmange of PC-speak (politically correct speak), it calls a spade a spade.”

Still, he also noted recommendations that Internet service providers consider setting up hate-speech complaint lines. He said such lines could still end up eliminating “anything remotely controversial”.

The Canadian Jewish Congress issued a statement opposing the repeal of the hate-speech provisions from the Canadian Human Rights Act.

“The Jewish community knows from bitter experience how devastating hate propaganda can be,” Chief Executive Bernie Farber said.

The Human Rights Commission can order disputing sides to reconciliation or can take cases to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which acts like a court and can force legal sanctions or remedies.

At this month’s policy convention of the governing Conservative Party, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson voted for a resolution to have the commission get out of policing hate speech on the Internet.

But, mindful of his government’s minority status in Parliament, he reacted cautiously on Monday: “We’ll have a careful look at it... I’d like to get some input from the (House of Commons) justice committee.”

If Nicholson decides to try to change human rights legislation, he would require the support in Parliament of some members of one or more opposition parties.

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