Joanne McGarry

Joanne McGarry

July 22, 2013
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

After languishing a year in the Senate and a last ditch effort by prominent Liberal senators to kill it, a bill to axe section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights Act has received royal assent.

The so-called "hate speech" section that says it is "discriminatory" to communicate "any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt" will soon be history on the federal level.

The bill allows for a year-long implementation period.

Conservative MP Brian Storseth's Bill C-304 received royal assent June 26.

"It was a great day for Canada," said Storseth in a phone interview from his Westlock-St. Paul, Alta., riding. "This strikes a blow for liberty in Canada."

He praised the work of the late Senator Doug Finley who shepherded the bill through the Senate before his death in early May. Now he hopes to work with his provincial colleagues to address similar clauses in provincial human rights legislation "to try to make this the freest country in the world."

At the same time, Storseth wants to work with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in "beefing up the Criminal Code provisions" on hate speech so that charges are dealt with in "an open and transparent criminal justice system."

The implementation period leaves time for this review to take place, said a spokesperson for the MP.

FREE EXPRESSION

The Catholic Civil Rights League applauded the fact Bill C-304 has received royal assent. Section 13 "had caused significant problems for freedom of expression, including expression of religious beliefs, at the federal level," said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry in an email.

"Because Section 13 has been used to penalize the expression of unpopular opinions based on religious beliefs, including columns and articles written during the debates on same-sex marriage, the league was active in calls for its repeal."

McGarry noted Catholic Insight magazine faced federal complaints under this section. Even though the complaint was eventually dismissed, the magazine "was forced to incur substantial defence costs" while the complainant "faced little if any expense."

"Because the process is weighted in favour of the complainant, human rights tribunals are not the appropriate forum for testing claims of hate speech," McGarry said.

HATE SPEECH

"Criminal Code provisions regarding hate speech, libel and slander laws, with charges tried in court, help ensure that complainant and defendant are on a level playing field with respect to costs, and that rules of evidence and procedure are followed."

McGarry said she hoped provinces would reform their legislation "so that free expression of religious beliefs is protected."

The bill took a year to wind its way through the Senate, getting stuck in a divided Senate human rights committee.

Senate human rights committee chair Senator Mobina Jaffer voted against the bill after presenting the committee report in favour of its passage. Jaffer told the Senate hate messages "are an assault on human dignity.

"More than cause offence, they affect the basic social standing of individuals within society."

Storseth wants to work with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in "beefing up the Criminal Code provisions" on hate speech so that charges are dealt with in "an open and transparent criminal justice system." The implementation period leaves time for this review to take place.

HOMOSEXUAL ACTIVISTS

Section 13 had long been used to prosecute obscure white supremacists and anti-Semites as well as the occasional Christian who faced complaints from homosexual activists.

It did not come into widespread prominence until Mark Steyn and MacLean's Magazine faced complaints in three human rights jurisdictions - federally, in Ontario and in British Columbia for a series of excerpts based on his bestselling book America Alone that complainants argued were Islamophobic.

Though the complaints were dismissed in all jurisdictions, the fight included a week-long hearing before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and cost MacLean's around $1 million to fight.

Calgary Bishop Fred Henry also faced complaints to the Alberta Human Rights Commission for a pastoral letter in defence of traditional marriage. Though the complaint was eventually dropped, he also faced legal expenses.