Friday, November 25, 2011

Free Speech Bill Debated In Parliament

Bill C-304, that repeals the offensive section 13 of the Human Rights Act, received its first hour of debate last Tuesday. Here are a few quotes:

Mr. Brian Storseth (Westlock—St. Paul, CPC):
Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act eats away at this fundamental freedom. Most people are shocked when I explain to them that in Canada, right here in our own country, a person can be investigated under a section 13 complaint for having likely exposed a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that the person or persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

The key word is “likely” to have exposed. I think we can all agree that this is a very subjective and unnecessarily vague definition, not one of the narrowly defined legal definitions that would be far more appropriate for this clause. This is where section 13 truly fails to make a distinction between real hate speech and what I often term as “hurt speech”, or speech that is simply offensive.

This means that if someone has offended somebody and is investigated under section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, intent is not a defence. Truth is no longer a defence. The person would no longer have the right to due process, the right to a speedy trial, or even the right to a lawyer to defend himself or herself. In fact, in 90% of the human rights investigations under the Canadian Human Rights Act under section 13, the defendants do not even have legal advice, because they simply cannot afford it. When the people of Westlock--St. Paul hear about this, they are shocked. This is simply not the Canadian way.
Mr. David Sweet (Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, CPC):
For a clear example of section 13 hindering free speech here in Canada, we do not have to look far. As the member for Westlock—St. Paul previously alluded to, the Canadian Human Rights Commission investigator, Mr. Dean Steacey, was asked what value he gave freedom of speech in his investigations. To me it was shocking that Mr. Steacey replied, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value. It's not my job to give value to an American concept”.

I take umbrage with that. Freedom of speech is very much a Canadian concept, one that we should be very proud of and, most importantly, in this second week after Remembrance Day, let us never forget the ultimate sacrifice made by thousands of Canadians from the trenches of Europe to the hills of Afghanistan so that we could enjoy so many freedoms, not the least of which is the freedom of speech but also so millions suffering in Europe during the two world wars and in other conflicts since could also be free.

The list of those affected and stifled by section 13 is long and encompassing. Every journalist, writer, webmaster, blogger, publisher, politician, and private citizen in Canada can be subject to a human rights complaint for expressing an opinion or telling the truth on any given issue.
Mr. Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton—St. Albert, CPC):
There is no doubt that members are aware of the already workable remedies and workable limits with respect to freedom of speech. There are laws against perjury, the torts of libel and slander and, most important and most germane to this debate, sections 318 to 320 of the Criminal Code. Those are all real hate speech protections.

A distinction must be drawn between hate speech and hurt speech or the so-called counterfeit right of hurt feelings. One does not have a right against having his or her feelings hurt. I am sorry but that is not a right that exists in common law and it is not a right that exists in free and democratic societies.

The Criminal Code sanctions regarding free speech found in sections 318 to 320 require something more than hurt feelings. They require real and actionable hatred. If a person advocates genocide, destruction of a group's property or harm or damage to the person of that group, then that person has fallen offside the hate provisions of the Criminal Code, and, I would submit, rightfully so. However, that is something quite different than the so-called freedom not to be offended, or what my friend referred to as hurt speech.

Free speech, if it is to exist, cannot be subject to some bureaucracy. There is no such thing as government regulated free speech. Either there is free speech or there is not.
But what about the opposition? If there is an opposition MP that supports the bill - we haven't heard of him yet. All 3 speakers from the opposition (Irwin Colter from the Liberals and Fran├žoise Boivin and Charmaine Borg from the NDP) spoke against the bill. Irwin Colter suggested that the Parliament first lets the Supreme Court have its say and then tries to reform the system rather than repealing section 13 altogether. As for the two NDP MPs, their major argument was that the Criminal code doesn't go far enough in prosecuting hate speech, because it's based on a different system of evidence - as opposed to the freedom-snatching committees in which the standard rules of evidence simply don't apply.

Yes, believe it or not, what is an integral part of every person's right to a fair trial, is regarded to them as a drawback. Charmaine Borg doesn't trust the criminal code to address "hate speech" because "a criminal case requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, while a case before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal requires proof on a balance of probabilities". Fran├žoise Boivin not only agrees with her, but she is also certain that "there have not been tons of grievances", that "it is not as though everyone is running to the Human Rights Commission to file a grievance against someone for hate speech under section 13" and that the Conservatives are merely "scaring people and leading them to believe that good citizens will be cheerfully brought before the courts to have their right to freedom of expression challenged and that it will cost them a fortune" - as if there were no frivolous hurt feelings claims filed against Ezra Levant, Mark Steyn, Rev. Stephen Boissoin, Ron Gray and many others. What a disgrace!...

P.S. It's interesting that in her speech, Ms. Boivin repeatedly mentioned the Charter, when the bill deals the Human Rights Act. At one point she even went as far as claiming that Bill C-304 was about repealing section 13 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which, of course, has nothing to do with prosecuting opinions "likely" to be seen as hate speech. (Section 13 of the Charter deals with protections against self-incrimination and is not in any way affected by bill C-304.) What was it - a a deliberate attempt to mislead her fellow MPs (let alone the general public) into believing that the Conservatives are about to strike out a section from the Charter or Ms. Boivin simply didn't know what piece of legislature she was talking about?

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