Hate Crimes in Canada: Justice system gaps and strengths

Speaking Notes
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Chief Commissioner
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Summary remarks at
Canadian Race Relations Foundation's and The Globe & Mail's
Hate Crimes in Canada: Justice system gaps and strengths

The Globe and Mail Centre in Toronto via Zoom

March 22, 2022

12:15 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

12 minutes

check against delivery

Thank you so much, and thank you to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the team at The Globe & Mail for gathering so many of the leading experts on this urgent issue.

I want to join others in expressing my gratitude to be here today, speaking from these traditional lands that belong to many nations, including: the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, and other diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

There is so much to consider from this in-depth discussion.

To the panellists today: thank you for your insight and your commitment to these issues.

These discussions have underscored three key points for me.

First, there is a legal gap in Canada.

Second, the gap in legal protection and advances in technology have allowed hate to galvanize.

Third, combatting hate will take a comprehensive regime that is coordinated and proactive.

Today's discussion has reminded us that hate is a threat to public safety, a threat to democracy, and a threat to human rights.

Hate speech violates a person's most basic human rights and freedoms — the right to equality and to freedom from discrimination.

And Canada has a duty to implement laws to ensure that human rights are adequately protected, respected, and fulfilled.

This includes protection from hate speech and online hate.

Canada has not done enough.

There is a legal gap in hate speech protections in Canada.

The Commission's perspective in this area dates back to the hate speech provisions under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Section 13 originally allowed someone to file a complaint regarding hate messages on 1-800 telephone numbers.

Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, Parliament amended Section 13 to include messages communicated over the internet.

Even then, Section 13 was not sufficient.

From the first days of the internet, communities targeted by hate called for stronger laws.

Instead, in 2013, this section of the Act was removed.

As a result, one of the only legal options to fight hate was taken away.

Those who promoted hate speech continued with fewer consequences.

The impacts of this change were not only legal but also social.

It gave a boost to those who argue that freedom of expression is absolute, and that there should be no legal accountability for spreading hate.

Their views gained traction; their groups gained followers; and their movement gained momentum.

As the Globe and Mail's research has shown, the remaining legal criminal code option is often of little help.

The gap in legal protection and advances in technology have allowed hate to galvanize.

Today, online hate is easier to find, harder to ignore, and impossible to avoid.

The internet has given everyone the power to be a broadcaster.

Hate spreads quickly and organically with the help of algorithms and clickbait.

Now, companies can host and promote online hate with almost no legal accountability.

Hate is being used to isolate, mob, and overwhelm individuals online.

Behaviour that was unacceptable in real life has gained acceptance online.

And this leads to real world harms.

In recent years, we have seen numerous devastating examples.

Online hate has led to threats, violence, murders and massacres.

Even when hate does not end in physical violence, it is still deeply harmful to victims and society.

It bolsters stereotypes, reinforces prejudice, and it dehumanizes people.

In this way, it makes discrimination easier and more acceptable.

Hate has been monetized and politicized — it is now big business and big politics.

Many are willing to ignore the harms caused by hate because there is money to be made, and power to be gained by exploiting it.

Those who promote hate have found new allies in Canada and around the world.

Hate is part of coordinated misinformation campaigns that divide and distract us.

Hate contributes to an erosion of trust in public institutions and science.

The people spreading hate are also distorting human rights principles to justify their actions.

This is wrong.

And let me be clear: Human rights protections can never be used to attack others or to justify harm.

In some cases, hate has found its way into mainstream political debates with an alarming mask of credibility.

In this way, hate turns us against each other, and destabilizes our democracy.

Hate is a threat to democracy.

It shuts down debate.

It silences people.

And it discourages people from participating in the political process.

And we know we are not insulated from what is happening around the world.

Online hate has no borders. It is often created and promoted by communities that are connected world-wide.

Canada should be looking to events in other democracies as a cautionary tale.

Combatting hate will take a comprehensive regime that is coordinated and proactive.

It must be bold.

Canada must be seen by the world as a leader.

Reinstating section 13 is not enough.

Tackling the issue of online hate cannot fall to one organization alone; nor should the onus fall on those targeted by online hate.

A new regime must respond meaningfully to:

  • The concerns
  • The alarms
  • And the recommendations raised today.

This regime needs to understand and address the root causes of hate.

It must hold accountable those who create, spread, and profit from hate, including social media companies.

Social media platforms need to prove that they are taking concrete and effective steps to prevent hate speech and to remove it immediately.

This requires oversight, audits, and meaningful monetary penalties.

And it must include information campaigns and prevention.

We know this legislative task is difficult and complex.

It may not be perfect.

But it must be done.

Solutions must take hate seriously.

They must address hate for the very real threat that it poses.

A threat to public safety

A threat to democracy, and

A threat to human rights.

Without comprehensive new legislation, hate will continue to violate human rights.

If people in Canada targeted by online hate have to live their lives afraid and in a toxic social atmosphere, we are failing them.

Without stronger legal protections, hate will continue to infest and influence our public and political discourse.

Our children are watching and learning as hate and disinformation are normalized.

What they see will become the social norms that will support their sense of right and wrong, and guide their behavior as they grow.

The Commission is committed to combatting hate in all forms in Canada.

We are looking forward to working with Ministers and Parliamentarians to ensure this issue is properly addressed.

I encourage all of you to remain engaged and involved as our efforts continue.

None of us can do this alone.

We are stronger together.

And together, we are stronger than hate.

Merci. Be well & safe.

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