February 29, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Canada has a Charter of Rights that speaks about freedom of speech but nowhere does it mention something called “freedom from hatred.” That concept has become part of the Canadian Human Rights Act, specifically Section 13 of that act which defines hate speech as communication “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
The parameters of this seeming protection are so broad as to allow swimming space for a blue whale. This injunction against hatred is, in effect, an assault on free speech and essentially overrides a fundamental democratic freedom, replacing it with a nebulous and misplaced guarantee that Canadians need never be exposed to anything unpleasant, or even the very chance that they might be exposed to some form of contempt or perceived contempt. This provision has in fact been successfully used to silence all forms of legitimate criticism in this country, since any form of criticism can naturally be construed or distorted to be a form of hatred and therefore inadmissible in Canada. Critics of Sharia Law have been accused of fomenting hatred against Moslems. Section 13 has also undermined basic religious freedom as well. Any criticism of homosexuality, on the basis of it being a lifestyle incompatible with Biblical precepts, is also subject to the question of whether this belief and consequent analysis could possibly cause anyone discomfort.
Thankfully it has fallen on one backbench Conservative Member of Parliament to take back free speech in Canada. Never heard of Alberta MP Brian Storseth (Westlock-St. Paul)? You should have. Storseth has quietly moved a private member’s bill (PMB) past second reading that would repeal sections 13 and 54 (related to 13) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Bill C-304 just passed second reading in the House of Commons and should be up for third reading by mid-April. That means the bill could receive royal assent by the time Parliament recesses for the summer. The legislation has the support of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson so there is little chance of the government deciding the PMB is too controversial to carry forward.
Ensuring the ascendancy of free speech should never be a subject of controversy in a democracy. We do not and should not enjoy anything approaching freedom from hatred. In the first place, just how does one define hatred? Do Marxists hate capitalists? It may well be argued that yes, they do. Should we be banning the works of Karl Marx because these tomes “are likely to expose” the monied class to “hatred and contempt?” Was hatred, to some degree, not a force that fuelled most political revolutions in history? Moreover, is the hatred that promulgates the murder of one person by another not just as real and toxic as the hatred of one person towards a race or religion? Yet with the same logic as we suppress free speech to stifle offense, we have uber-criminalized crimes that have achieved a special status on the hate index while pretending that every crime is not somehow motivated by that same emotion.
Secondly, if we are so supine in debate that we are reluctant to condemn or criticize behaviour, thought or practice because that speech may be judged to be hateful, then we might just as well refrain from any form of philosophical, moral or political debate in this country because someone will be offended in the process. Democratic debate necessitates offence. I shall be offended at some point. My opponents will be equally offended. We shall never have – and in a temporal world, we should never desire – a marketplace of ideas bereft of controversy and objection. Any law that seeks to create such a sea of homogeneity has no place in a democracy and needs to be repealed.
David Krayden is the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies, an independent, not-for-profit institution dedicated to the advancement of freedom and prosperity through the development and promotion of good public policy.