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Send an urgent message to Canadian legislators urging them to stop Trudeau’s ‘Online Harms Act’

(LifeSiteNews) — Andrew Lawton joins Jonathon on this week’s episode of The Van Maren Show to discuss the Online Harms Act, Canada’s proposed internet “hate speech” law.

Lawton begins the show addressing the confusion surrounding Bill C-63, pointing out that it does contain things “sensible” people would support, such as provisions concerning child sexual exploitation and terrorist content. However, the bill treats “online hate” in the same way as child exploitation and terror, Lawton observes.

He states that the “hate” portion of the legislation is a reintroduction of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act – something the previous Conservative government of Canada managed to get rid of in 2013. The reintroduced section, however, “supercharges” the original proposal’s language, giving the Human Rights Tribunal the ability to prosecute people for “hate speech” online and forcing social media companies to take down offending content.

“As anyone who’s paid any attention to these sorts of issues can tell you, this is just a recipe for disaster when you give government that authority to define and then to execute,” says Lawton.

He also addresses the “Orwellian” aspect of the bill, observing that it allows people to be prosecuted while they have yet to commit an offense. In other words, if someone suspects someone else of future “hate propaganda” or a future “hate crime,” then any Canadian, whether it be an average Canadian or the attorney general, can appear before a judge and argue that a would-be perpetrator be arrested.

Lawton also notes that sentencing for “hate motivated offenses” – any crime such as vandalism or murder that is motivated by “hate” – can carry a lifetime prison sentence rather than the normal criminal sentence. While people have responded to this worry by saying that judges won’t use that power, Lawton says he doesn’t “like legislation where the only guardrail against abuse is just, ‘Trust us.’”

The language used by the bill itself is broad, Lawton says, maintaining that its drafters have no concern for free speech issues. “Justice Minister [Arif Virani]… was asked about this, and his only justification for how is this going to protect free speech was, ‘Oh well, the law requires that we respect the Charter,’” Lawton notes. “Well, yeah, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to do it. It just means you’re supposed to do it.”

Lawton further addresses an apparent enforcement problem, saying he does not expect the law to be enforced the same way for someone who commits arson against a synagogue or mosque as for someone who commits the same crime targeting a church. Lawton observes that the “political class” treats these offenses differently, and he suspects that since the “judicial class” is appointed by the “political class,” then it will follow the former.

“Already there is a sense that this is not going to be protecting all groups equally,” Lawton opines.

“When you bring that into the speech realm… I don’t think that you’re right to make gender critical comments as a feminist, say, is going to be upheld as much as your right to make trans-friendly comments if you’re a trans activist. And I think right here we have the case of these administrative bodies, these tribunals that have to pick and choose the winners of whose free speech matters more than the other.”

When Jonathon asks Lawton if he suspects Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing the legislation because of a potential Liberal defeat in the next election, Lawton responds by noting that Trudeau first tabled the legislation in 2021 the day before he dissolved Parliament and called for an election, suggesting that Trudeau believes in the legislation. He also believes that Trudeau sees it as a “political win.” He admits that this prospect unsettles him, observing that most are no longer likely to defend freedom of speech as they once did. Later in the episode, he also opines that criticism of the legislation will not stop Trudeau from pushing it.

Lawton further notes that “a lot of” Canadians have not given critical thought to the “edge cases of things that they care about,” observing that if one were to ask Canadians if they support free speech, most would answer positively, and that people would “generally agree” if they were asked if the government should regulate “hate speech.” The problem, he notes, is how to define “hate speech” and what it actually entails.

Lawton, looking at how the issue will pan out, believes that the bill will indeed pass one day, but he makes note of two issues. First, he says there is a question of what happens in parliamentary committee, stating that committees have a “significant role,” especially in minority governments. He says this has been made clear by parliamentary discussion on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). What he would like to see happen is that the parties agree to split the bill in committee, one bill dealing with child sexual exploitation and the other dealing with “hate,” but suspects that there will not be opposition to it either way.

“The best that the Conservatives could hope for is some level of dilution in the committee stage, but it won’t be what it needs to be, which is just killing the bill outright,” Lawton suspects.

Should the bill pass, however, Lawton observes that regulations surrounding the legislation would still need to be written by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), and that social media companies would have to respond to it. It would be in the Conservatives’ interest, he asserts, that it would not be fully implemented by the time of the next election, since it would be easier to undo it.

Further, Lawton says it would send a “chill” and that people will become “leery” of what they say, while others like himself will look at the CHRC and say “come at me,” and still others will not wish to deal with it. He once again points to the reaction of social media companies, however, and says that their response will be “fascinating,” given how Facebook blocked news in Canada rather than abide by government regulations.

Lawton closes the interview observing that the legislation targets speech that is “likely to foment detestation or vilification” of people based on a “prohibited ground of discrimination,” while offensive, disdaining, humiliating, hurtful, or speech expressing dislike, is allowed.

“What I would tell Canadians is that if you think that your speech at some point will not be targeted by this, you listen to that definition and tell me where the line is between disdain and detestation, or the line between dislike or vilification, and ask whether you trust the government to draw that line fairly,” he says.

Lawton adds that the fight against the bill is “winnable” and notes there is more discussion on the issue now than there was when it was last introduced, given events in Great Britain and Ireland over “hate speech” policy, and hopes that people in Canada don’t have to experience prosecution in order to know why the bill was a bad idea.

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Send an urgent message to Canadian legislators urging them to stop Trudeau’s ‘Online Harms Act’