Presentation to Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Study on Online Hate
Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Canadian Human Rights Commission
Presentation to Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
Study on Online Hate
Thursday May 30, 2019
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Thank you for inviting the Canadian Human Rights Commission to participate in this discussion today on online hate. I am joined by my colleague, Monette Maillet, Deputy Executive Director and Senior General Counsel.
The proliferation of online hate is a clear and present danger.
In recent years, it has become painfully clear that allowing online hate to fester can result in horrific consequences.
We are therefore encouraged that the Justice Committee is conducting this important study.
We are pleased to see that you are hearing from several witnesses representing the people and communities most often targeted by hate.
Hate speech — and particularly online hate — is both an urgent public safety issue and a fundamental human rights issue.
Hate speech violates a person’s most basic human rights and freedoms — the right to equality and the right to live free from discrimination.
I will focus my remarks on three key points:
First, online hate causes harm.
Second, there is a gap in the law when it comes to protecting people from online hate.
Third, a comprehensive strategy is needed.
The internet has given everyone the power to be a broadcaster.
People can be louder than ever before and influence more people than ever before.
While this has had many positive benefits, it has also amplified hate speech.
Far too often, people are victimized by online hate because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or where they are from.
Online hate has been found to cause fear and psychological harm. It shuts down debate and it promotes conflict, division and social tension.
At its most serious, online hate incites violence, and leads to horrific consequences.
If Canadians targeted by online hate are expected to live their lives in a toxic social atmosphere, we are failing them.
Canada has a responsibility under international and domestic laws to promote equality and to protect all Canadians from discrimination.
This brings me to my second point: there is a gap in the law when it comes to protecting people from online hate.
The now-repealed section 13 of the Canada Human Rights Act has given the Commission an informed perspective on addressing online hate in Canada.
As many of you may know, section 13 was originally written into the CHRA to prevent harm from prohibited hate messages based on antisemitism that were being communicated by telephone in the 1970s.
Following the attacks of September 11, section 13 was broadened to include messages communicated over the internet.
For many years, it was effective in shutting down a number of extreme neo-Nazi websites.
However, this approach is not well suited to respond to today’s rapidly evolving technology.
As you know, section 13 was deemed to be a constitutionally sound provision.
As well, the Supreme Court has confirmed that some limits to free speech are justifiable in a free and democratic society.
We have noted that previous witnesses have spoken of the need for a definition of hate.
To this end, we encourage this committee to look at the definitions put forth by the Supreme Court of Canada as well as the Hallmarks of Hate, developed by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
In the discussion around freedom of expression and hate speech, we must not forget the fundamental right to equality and to be free from discrimination.
There is no hierarchy of rights. And rights sometimes compete.
The Commission believes that there needs to be an appropriate balance.
This is going to require meaningful participation and accountability of all involved parties.
What we can say for certain is that something must be done quickly to address the proliferation of online hate. It threatens public safety, violates human rights and undermines democracy.
As other witnesses have said, addressing online hate will require a proactive approach that involves tracking, intervention and prevention.
This brings me to my third point: a comprehensive strategy is needed.
It will take a concerted and coordinated long-term effort that is proactive, multi-pronged and multi-faceted.
It will take innovative thinking, technical expertise, proper resourcing, coordination and cooperation.
This strategy will need to bring together all levels of governments, telecommunication and internet providers, social media platforms, civil society, academia and most importantly, victims of hate.
These efforts must be led by the Government.
The Government has a duty to meet its domestic and international human rights obligations. This includes protecting citizens from hateful speech.
In conclusion, the Canadian Human Rights Commission is committed to the fight against hate, and to participating in a broader, coordinated solution.
In response to previous testimony, we would submit that merely reinstating Section 13, however amended, would be insufficient.
In this modern era, this one legal change alone could neither provide the scope, nor the level of protections or remedies necessary to effectively address the prevalence of online hate speech.
If this Committee or the government explores legislative amendments to the CHRA or other legislation as part of a broader response to online hate speech, the CHRC would be happy to engage further.
In the coming days, the Commission will present a number of documents, including a summary report of a recent event we co-hosted to discuss hate online.
Thank you. We look forward to your questions.