The government is poised to press ahead with a law combating racial and religious hatred, including online hate, according to Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen.
In an interview, the minister condemned the flying of Nazi and Confederate flags by protesters outside Parliament as “disgusting” and “reprehensible,” saying such symbols have no place in Canadian society.
“Seeing symbols of hate right across the doorstep of our Parliament is unbelievable and should be condemned,” he said.
Hussen said the government will shortly reintroduce a new version of Bill C-36, an anti-hate law that died when the election was called.
The bill will include the creation of a peace bond to prevent people from continuing to make racist comments or from carrying out hateful threats. The court order would be designed to prevent a hate crime occurring and would include penalties if it is breached, including up to four years imprisonment.
Hussen said the anti-hate bill will be introduced “as soon as possible” and be fully fleshed out in committees and in debates.
Critics of its predecessor, C-36, said it was fraught with problems and risked hampering freedom of speech or be difficult to enforce.
The bill was introduced last June, hours before the House of Commons rose for a summer break, fuelling speculation at the time that the Trudeau government was trying to pad its record ahead of an election.
Hussen said an anti-hate bill was a priority for the government, which wanted to tackle “head on” an upsurge in antisemitism, anti-Asian hatred, Islamophobia and racism toward Black people.
“We know too many people in Canada are victimized by hate speech and hate crimes and we have to make sure we are tackling this,” he said. “One of the ways we are doing this is to formally define hatred in the Criminal Code and also to improve the complaints process available for victims of hate speech.”
Bill-36, as introduced before the election, would have amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to reinstate a narrower version of a controversial section repealed in 2013 following criticism that it violated freedom of speech rights.
The repealed section defined hate speech as anything “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” on the basis of their race, gender, religion or other prohibited ground of discrimination.
Bill C-36, on the other hand, would have defined hatred to mean “the emotion that involves detestation or vilification” that is “stronger than dislike or disdain.” And it would specify that a statement would not be considered hate speech “solely because it discredits, humiliates or offends.”
The bill would also have amended the Criminal Code and Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Hussen said the forthcoming bill would also bring in a new definition of hatred in the Criminal Code, Youth Criminal Justice Act and Canadian Human Rights Act, and that definition would be based on recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions.
The bill would “further protect people against hatred both online and off-line,” he said.
Between July and September last year the Canadian Heritage ministry consulted with various interested parties, including social media platforms, to explore how to develop new laws and regulations to tackle proliferation of harmful content online.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and other ministers this week released a report on the consultations, which said “the overwhelming majority of respondents agree the government of Canada needs to take action to confront harmful content.”
But the consultations also found that there were concerns about “unintended consequences if a thoughtful approach is not taken.”
Mark Buell, regional vice-president for the North America chapter of the Internet Society, a global non-profit focused on keeping the internet open and secure, said the report sent a “strong message that the government of Canada got it wrong.”
“It’s clear the legislation needs a complete reboot, and I hope that this time they work with experts who understand how the internet works if they want to get it right,” he said.
Canadian Heritage plans in the next few weeks to engage experts to advise the government on how to adjust the proposal, and swiftly propose a revised framework.
Advocates believe forthcoming legislation tackling hatred, including online hate, will be more far-reaching than Bill-36.
Richard Marceau, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said any anti-hate bill should be broader than C-36 and include measures to force internet platforms to take action to remove racist and antisemitic posts.
The federal government also plans to appoint a special representative to combat Islamophobia. The prime minister last year reappointed Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister, as special envoy combating antisemitism.
Hussen said the government was committed to a victims-of-hate support fund. It would provide financial help and other supports to victims of hate-motivated violence, including covering uninsured costs of damage to property or medical supplies.
The Parliamentary Black Caucus on Friday issued a statement condemning the flying of Nazi and Confederate flags by the protesters in Ottawa and called for action to prohibit the public display of these “symbols of hate and terror.”
Peter Julian, the NDP’s heritage critic, introduced a private member’s bill this week that would ban “symbols of hate” from being sold or displayed in Canada, including flags with swastikas, Nazi memorabilia and uniforms, Confederate flags and Ku Klux Klan costumes.
Julian said he tabled the bill “in response to the appalling, disgusting Nazi flag on Parliament Hill.” The NDP MP said there was a good deal of cross-party support for the measure and he hoped that it could pass unanimously.
“I’m getting a thumbs-up from MPs of all parties,” he said.
—Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press