OTTAWA, June 12, 2009 – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) has characterized as “inadequate” the recommendations contained in the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) report “Freedom of Expression and Freedom from Hate” released June 11. The report is mainly focused on Section 13, which allows the CHRC to hear complaints about hate speech published on the Internet and in other telecommunications.
The main recommendations of the report, the result of an internal review by the Commission, are that the federal human rights tribunal no longer have the ability to issue fines to those it finds guilty of hate speech; that the Canadian Human Rights Act be amended to provide a statutory definition of “hatred” and “contempt”; that the Act be amended to allow for an award of costs in exceptional circumstances where the Tribunal finds that a party has abused the Tribunal process; and that a provision be added that allows for the dismissal of Section 13 complaints when messages do not meet the narrow definition of hatred or contempt.
Independent investigators, including, as the report notes, Professor Richard Moon, have concluded that Section 13 should go entirely. So have Liberal and Conservative MPs, most journalist associations in Canada, as well as the Catholic Civil Rights League.
“Previous commentators, including the League and Professor Moon, identified the inadequacy and danger posed by the existing provisions of s.13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act,” said League President Phil Horgan. “It now appears that after eight years of prosecutions against Internet applications under this section, the Commission acknowledges that there is a problem.
“The Commission now wishes to try to continue its work in this area, under new rules. We find that most of the recommendations amount to fairly superficial changes to a system that is fundamentally flawed. Cases involving limitations on a Charter right such as free speech should not be addressed by human rights commissions.”
The recommendation to remove the tribunal's ability to levy fines against offenders is an improvement, says the League. However, the CCRL says that the change does not address the heart of the problem – that cases involving freedom of speech and freedom of religion should not be dealt with by a non-judicial tribunal. According to CCRCL freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and religion are fundamental values of our democratic tradition, and any judicial curtailment of them should face the standard of proof required by a court.
The League's involvement with Section 13 cases has been motivated by the Commission's investigations of expression of opinion based on religious belief.
In the case of Catholic Insight magazine, for example, the publisher ended up paying over $40,000 in legal fees to defend the right to publish views based on Catholic teaching. That case remains outstanding, as the complainant has sought judicial review of the Commission's dismissal more than a year ago
The League points out that the Commission's recommendation that provisions may be made to allow the awarding costs in exceptional circumstances where the Tribunal finds that a party has abused the Tribunal process, is a recognition that abuses have occurred.
“A true recognition of the imbalanced playing field between complainants and respondents would result in the recovery of the out of pocket expenses incurred by innocent parties,” said the CCRL in a press release. According to current regulations, complainants in CHRC cases have all their expenses covered by the state, while those who defend themselves from a complaint have to pay their legal fees out of pocket.
The CCRL continues on to ask, “Will the Commission acknowledge its complicity in this charade [in the case of Catholic Insight], and reimburse the magazine for its expenses?”
The CCRL press release concludes, saying that despite its concerns about the CHRC's report, “After millions of dollars in wasteful prosecutions of innocent parties, it is encouraging to note that the Commission may finally be getting the message that there have been problems with its past practices.”