Human language

Language feuds could slow online damage bill, anti-hate groups say


A coalition of advocacy groups is urging the federal government to keep its promise to take immediate action against hate speech online and to include measures to tackle the problem in Tuesday’s Speech from the Throne.

Coalition members have said they want ministers to deal with such an emergency law, fearing that concerns over its wording could block its progress for years to come.

The Liberals promised in the recent federal election that online hate legislation would be a priority in the new parliamentary session, which is due to begin on Monday.

Shortly before Parliament adjourned before the September vote, the Liberal government introduced a bill targeting extreme forms of hate speech online.

This bill, known as Bill C-36, has drawn criticism from opposition Conservatives and others who have expressed concern that it could restrict freedom of movement. expression or be difficult to apply.

The bill ultimately died on the Order Paper when Parliament was dissolved.

The Department of Canadian Heritage and the Department of Justice say they are working on ways to resolve the problem and note that the solution could involve more than one bill.

In recent months, according to the Heritage Ministry, the government has held consultations on how to craft new online damage legislation.

Potential for a new government agency

Justine Lesage, spokesperson for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, said Bill C-36 was part of a major government effort to tackle hate speech.

“The bill does not work on its own,” she said, adding that tackling online damage continues to be “a priority for the government”.

Recent consultation efforts have also seen the Liberals launch the creation of a new government agency to tackle online mischief.

But groups that have been consulted on the proposals fear wording issues, and the scope of any new legislation could see the issue lose its priority on the government’s to-do list.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, along with Lametti, are urged to ensure that a bill regulating hate and online vitriol has a “quick passage” through parliament. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

The Coalition to Combat Hate Online, which includes Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Indigenous and Black organizations, wrote to Justice Minister David Lametti and Rodriguez urging them to ensure a bill regulating hate online and the vitriol has “passed quickly” through Parliament.

The letter says regulation is needed because “the social media industry cannot be trusted to self-regulate.”

“Now is the time to act. Every day, Canadians are exposed to a barrage of hate content, ”the letter read, adding that young people and racialized Canadians face such content more often than others.

Bill C-36 would have amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to introduce a new version of a controversial article that was repealed in 2013 amid criticism that it violated the right to free speech .

The proposed change would have defined hatred more narrowly as “the emotion which involves hatred or defamation” which is “stronger than aversion or contempt”. Bill C-36 would also have amended the Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The bill would have allowed individuals or groups to file hate speech complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It also included measures to prevent abuse of process.

Under federal rules proposed in the last Parliament, social media sites could face fines if they do not remove content deemed harmful. The government will have to present a new bill to Parliament. (Pixabay)

At the time, the Conservatives rejected Bill C-36 as a last-minute “political posture”. The conservative election platform has promised to criminalize statements inciting violence against identifiable people or groups while protecting speeches, such as critics, that do not.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for tighter regulation of online hate.

Bill C-36 would only apply to those who write a hate message online and not to the social media platforms where they post it.

A “badly worded” bill is better than nothing: plead

The liberal platform said legislation ensuring that “social media companies and other online services are held accountable for the content they host” would come within the first 100 days of a new term.

Richard Marceau, a former Bloc Québécois MP who now heads the coalition pushing for swift action, said there was a clear link between online vitriol and violent attacks on Jews and Muslims.

“We understand that they are working very hard on this, but that their thinking is not completely over,” Marceau said of the government’s efforts to date.

“We understand that when we are dealing with free speech, especially hate online, you have to find the right balance. We want to make sure that target groups are protected from online hatred, which too often leads to real violence. “

Some fear that a rushed bill will not survive parliamentary scrutiny or that comedians or those voicing thorny political views will inadvertently be caught in its grasp.

Fatema Abdalla, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said there were clear links between the hate forums and a series of attacks against Muslims.

“We believe that this is an urgent matter that we want to address this session. But we also believe that it must be done correctly,” she said.

Bernie Farber, founder of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said it would be better to introduce a bill and tweak it in a parliamentary committee than see further delays.

“I would rather have badly drafted legislation than nothing at all,” he said.