The beginning of the end of hate speech laws?

A federal law governing hate speech violates Canadians’ charter rights to freedom of expression, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled.

Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits communication, including via web sites, that is “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” if the persons belong to one of the prohibited grounds for discrimination (eg sex, sexual orientation).

One of the Tribunal’s main objections is that the Canadian Human Rights Commission has the power to investigate and deal with complaints about hate speech on the Internet, and to fine those it finds guilty.

Is it really the beginning of the end? The Tribunal’s power is limited to refusing to apply section 13 in the case before it (Lemire vs Warman). It cannot repeal the section. But, as Richard Moon argued in a report last year, hate speech is already covered under section 319 of the Criminal Code, prohibiting behaviour that “promotes willful hatred against an identifiable group or groups”. The difference is that these prosecutions are made only with the approval of the Attorney-General, rather than instigated by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The tribunal’s decision is at
http://chrt-tcdp.gc.ca/aspinc/search/vhtml-eng.asp?doid=981&lg=_e&isruling=0

There’s an interesting National Post editorial at http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/story.html?id=1957347

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