There’s an old saying, Better late than never. An apt way to describe my reaction to the news that five years after forming the government, the Conservatives have put forward an initiative to amend section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA), upon which federal Human Rights Commission/Tribunal hate speech cases are based.
Section 13 (1) states in part (full text here):
“It is a discriminatory practice … to communicate … 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.”
This is a nasty bit of legislation that has emboldened petty officials to overreach in their efforts to reengineer our society. Not only does it place unreasonable restrictions on our right to free expression, but it is also discriminatory for it offers special protections only to certain persons in our society, that is, only to those who are “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
No protection here for most of us. Nor should there be. Our criminal code already covers slander, libel and hate speech. And none of us require protection from communications that can be merely insulting.
At the Conservative Party’s 2008 policy convention at Winnipeg, delegates passed a resolution to repeal/modify (I can’t remember which) section 13. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson supported the resolution so, since its passing, I’ve anxiously awaited action in Ottawa. No luck so far.
“Freedom of speech is a fundamental principle in our democracy and one which Canadians have fought and died for, for over a century.”
– MP Brian Storseth
Liberal MP Keith Martin proposed a private member’s bill to rescind section 13.1. Martin said it is being applied by “rogue commissions where a small number of people [are] determining what Canadians can and can’t say.” He also said some of history’s most important ideas “were originally deemed to be sacrilegious and certainly in opposition to conventional wisdom.” Unfortunately, without the backing of the party in power, the bill died without coming to a vote. Another Liberal MP, former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler called for reform of section 13, to little effect, of course.
Finally, our wait may soon come to an end. Brian Storseth, a Conservative MP from Alberta’s Westlock-St. Paul riding has taken up the cause. He has introduced Bill C-304, “An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (Protecting Freedom),” a private member’s bill that—since it’s a Conservative MP’s initiative—could actually see the light of day and may even get a chance to be debated.
Have heart, free-speechers!