Bill C-51: Hate crime law might be expanded, but at what cost?

By Alan Shanoff ,Toronto Sun

Is the federal government proposing to make hyperlinking a crime?

That seems to be the case when you read Bill C-51, a federal bill called Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act. The stated purpose of Bill C-51 is the modernization of certain criminal offences. One of the offences to be modernized is the offence of public promotion of hatred against an identifiable group.

Bill C-51’s amendment to modernize the promotion of hatred offence would see the definition of “communication” revised from the currently vague “includes communication by telephone, broadcasting or other audible or visible means” to the very broad “making available” of a statement.

The new and improved modernized definition makes it crystal clear hyperlinking is a form of communication. After all, what better way to make something available than providing a link to it?

So with this attempt at modernization, search engines like Google will be at risk of prosecution for making available all sorts of subjectively hateful sites available to anybody in Canada, as would be anybody who provides a link to them.

Yes, many of these sites contain hurtful language, but should anybody linking to such sites for any reason be at risk of prosecution?

Placing people at risk of prosecution for linking to sites that may be deemed to promote hatred against an identifiable group encourages censorship, is anti-democratic and will create more conspiracy theory adherents.

We already have enough people who think certain groups control the media and government. Why feed into their absurd notions by expanding the offence of public incitement of hatred?

Instead, I’d advocate getting rid of this offence in its entirety and focusing attention on the real form of hate speech we ought to be policing: Speech that threatens, advocates or attempts to justify violence against members of identifiable groups.

That’s what law professor Richard Moon advocated in his 2008 report on the regulation of hate speech on the Internet, where he also expressed the view “the criticism of religious belief cannot be restricted without undermining our commitment to freedom of expression.”

Yes, hate speech can be harmful, but who gets to make the decision on what is and isn’t hurtful? It’s too subjective.

Threatening, advocating or justifying violence, however, presents a much easier line to draw. So let’s beef up that offence and its prosecution, but at the same time rescind the much more vague and subjective promotion of hatred offence.

Instead, Bill C-51 would also “modernize” the hate speech offence by expanding the list of identifiable groups by including people distinguished by “national origin” to the current identifiers of colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.

I may be paranoid, but I can already see the bigoted outcry claiming this is but a means of making criticism of Israel illegal. Yes, there is a gap in the current definition, but is there a pressing need to fill the gap right now? Is there a need to protect people from hurtful speech based on their country of origin?

Of course, freedom of expression comes with limits, but the extent of the limits determines what sort of country we live in. The modernization in Bill C-51 seems to be a backward step.

Comments

It would be hard to enforce - imagine suing Google, Yahoo. However, the live links we inadvertently provided as part of a copy of Warman's human rights complaint against Guille etc., had to be delinked when we were named in a series of human rights complaints in early 2000. We left the links to sites but made sure they were not live. If anyone wanted to see the page, they simply had to copy the URL into their browsers. Technically, therefore, these were not "live" links, but URLs anyway.

But my problem is the way the Harperites would use the legislation to criminalize and attack legitimate criticism of the state of Israel.