House of Commons Hansard #80 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was financial.

Topics

Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Accordingly the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Financial System Review Act
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 22, 2011, consideration of the motion that Bill C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

When the House last took up this question, there were five minutes remaining for the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

The hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and a pleasure for me to continue my comments with respect to Bill C-304, an act to amend the section 13 of the Human Rights Code.

I will briefly sum up some of my observations. The last time I spoke, I commented on the importance of freedom of speech and how freedom of speech was one of the fundamental concepts that we enjoyed in western democracies such as Canada. However, some of the members opposite talked about the limits of freedom of speech, which I acknowledge they are there and they are important. The torts of slander and libel, criminal prosecution for perjury and the hate provisions of sections 318 to 320 of the Criminal Code I believe adequately form a check and balance on free speech that crosses the line, especially 318 and 320, which talk about hate speech.

What section 13 of the Human Rights Code purported to do was create a counterfeit right against hurt feelings. The sponsor of the bill has talked at some length about that not being a true right.

We need to be concerned as legislators of mechanisms that are designed to protect liberty which actually themselves become a threat to liberty. In my view, that is what we have with respect to section 13, which was intended to protect against hate speech on telephonic and electronically communicated messages. By that, we are really talking about the Internet in the modern age, which in and of itself has become a threat to free speech.

Ironically, there are media reports today of a situation in Saudi Arabia where a 23-year-old blogger has been sentenced to death for comments he blogged, partially on Twitter and in a blog, where he fancifully described an imaginary relationship that he had with the Mohammed. He described Mohammed more as a friend to him than as a deity. That offended the clerics in Saudi Arabia and this individual, for expressing those thoughts through his blog, has been sentenced to death.

Thankfully, the sanctions under section 13 of the Human Rights Code are much less tragic and severe than that which are imposed by the clerics in Saudi Arabia, but by analogy, members should be concerned that speech which some might find offensive is sanctionable. It is very much a difference of degree, not a difference of kind.

This place, Parliament, where we have unfettered free speech and cannot be subject to prosecution, has to deal with difficult issues from time to time. In fact, the last time the bill was before the House, almost at the exact same time there was a court case in British Columbia, where the Criminal Code sanctions against polygamy were under assault by an individual who had been charged with them.

The court in that case upheld the Criminal Code provisions banning polygamy in Canada, and in my view rightfully so, but it might have gone differently. The point is this chamber has to, from time to time, deal with contentious issues, issues that people believe strongly and they believe so because of their religion. Polygamy is an issue that some people subscribe to because of their faith.

If we are to have a fulsome debate on the definition of marriage, like this chamber had approximately eight years ago, it is impossible to do so without perhaps offending people and their religious values.

We have protection in this place, but what about the outside world? As we all know, the Internet and the social media have become the fluent marketplace of ideas, where people talk and comment and everyone who has a blog suddenly becomes an amateur journalist and an editorialist.

Almost all members of Parliament participate in these social media forms. I am on Twitter and Facebook, and I think most members are. These social media mechanisms have become important as we exchange ideas and engage public opinion to things that we are debating in the House.

It is hypocritical for members of the House not to support the bill. Section 13 prevents bloggers and people on the Internet from engaging in free speech as they could face prosecution simply because they offend somebody else's deeply held personal beliefs, such as freedom of religion.

I will close with a quote from one of my favourite prime ministers, the 13th prime minister of Canada, John Diefenbaker. When he introduced the Bill of Rights, he said:

I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country.This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold to myself and all mankind.

A Canadian free to speak without fear; that freedom ought to be extended to people who communicate via the Internet.

I encourage all members to support Bill C-304 and repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

NDP

Mylène Freeman Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before us today unfortunately threatens the preservation of our flourishing pluralistic society. I say this because we can only truly have freedom when every individual of every community is able to participate in the public sphere without fear of confronting violence. This is the purpose of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It does not impose unreasonable limits on the freedom of expression. Rather, it is a balance of each individual's freedom to live in society without fear.

Hate speech insidiously reinforces prejudices. It is a practice of inequality that is inconsistent with freedom. That is, it inhibits individuals from reaching their own full potential, and therefore, I argue, inhibits our society from reaching its potential.

Disseminating messages of hate via telecommunications technology is dehumanizing. It reinforces prejudice, encourages hate, and may even prompt or be perceived to justify physical violence. Not just that, but messages of hate are themselves a sort of violence, a communication of widespread violence that causes harm to us all by dividing us through the act of dehumanizing others.

This is why it is necessary that we maintain section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The commission deals with hatred, not with criminal acts of violence, and gives society's most vulnerable minority groups access to a mechanism of defending their rights as equal human beings.

Religious minorities, women, queer folk, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, recent immigrants, they are the ones who are most often targeted by the dissemination of hate, and are often the people who suffer from multiple forms of systemic inequality, including poverty and exclusion from the legal justice system. They may lack the financial and legal supports to persist in a legal case, and in the meantime, without section 13, their victimization would be allowed to continue unhindered.

This is why we have the Canadian Human Rights Act. It provides precipitous protection from dangerous violations of human rights abuses. It would not exist if those who needed protection were already being effectively protected.

Section 13 protects against images, words and opinions of hate, which is to say racism, targeted discrimination, homophobia, and grotesque and misleading imagery or information. This is a kind of violence and we need to be able to say as a society that we cannot accept this.

There needs to be a balance struck between the principles of free speech and protection from hate speech and propaganda. This is why we have a tribunal to inquire into reported incidents.

The law is specifically structured to account for the moral grey zone that can occur in cases of hate. When weighing the rights and freedoms of one person or group against another's, there must be room for variance and for each case to be adjudicated in its specificity. The Canadian Human Rights Act, including section 13, is a vehicle for exactly that process. If we allowed it to be disabled by Bill C-304, in cases where violence is being perpetrated victims would be unable to protect themselves using the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Freedom of speech is not an unlimited freedom. The pursuit of liberty understood as self-realization requires the balancing and limiting of other freedoms, in this case, that of speech.

This debate is about the balance of freedoms and duties that we have as citizens. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act represents a duty that we have to other citizens to not limit their freedoms. That is, it allows for people to not be discriminated against and therefore to realize their own purposes.

This is a form of liberty, and it is precisely the act of balancing this liberty with the freedom of speech that gives us the opportunity to live as a truly free and pluralistic society.

Yes, the Constitution protects freedom of expression, but it also protects the safety and liberty for all. Hate groups terrorize, threaten, stifle public participation and target the most vulnerable members of society.

I urge members of the House to consider the needs and rights of their constituents who are targeted by hate crimes before voting in favour of this legislation.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-304 and offer my thoughts on why I oppose the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, an opposition rooted in the collective responsibility of parliamentarians to eliminate hate speech in Canada. This responsibility does not begin and end with the prosecution of criminal cases of hate propaganda and incitement to genocide, as the member for Westlock—St. Paul and the Minister of Justice have suggested. The promotion of equality and minority rights obligates us to also ensure that an appropriate civil remedy exists for cases of hate speech that do not meet the criminal definition.

I am not suggesting that section 13 is perfect. Indeed, that section is problematic.

The main point I would like to make here today is that the principle behind maintaining section 13 deserves the support of all members. However, instead of repealing section 13, we should make the necessary changes to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, as that organization and the Canadian Bar Association have suggested.

We should be seriously asking ourselves why the Conservative government refuses to make the proposed changes and prefers instead to repeal section 13. I would also like to add that this debate is premature anyway, since the matter is still before the courts.

That is not to say that section 13 as currently written is without problems; it is not indeed. However, the central point I would like to make today is that the principle behind retaining section 13 is worthy of the support of members, and that rather than voting to repeal section 13, we should be making the necessary changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act, as suggested by various groups, including the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Human Rights Commission itself.

The summary of Bill C-304 explains:

This enactment amends the Canadian Human Rights Act by deleting sections 13 and 54 to ensure there is no infringement on freedom of expression guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I note there is nothing in the bill about the promotion of equality and minority rights.

In its written submission to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in January 2010, the Canadian Bar Association, CBA, explained the vital role that human rights commissions play in eliminating discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and other groups, and in advancing equality. The brief remarked:

Leading media outlets in this country have advocated the abolition of section 13 with no acknowledgement of the value the provision brings to enhancing civic discourse in Canadian society.

Of greater concern to the CBA is the fact that the debate surrounding the expediency of section 13 has become the proxy for an open assault on the very existence of an administrative framework to protect human rights in the country. Critics have decried human rights proceedings as “kangaroo courts” which provide only “drive through justice” and advocated that human rights tribunals and commissions should no longer be permitted to operate. We reject attacks of this kind and reiterate forcefully our support for the continued importance of the work undertaken by these human rights bodies to foster human rights in Canada.

When the member for Westlock—St. Paul spoke to this bill on November 22, 2011, he argued:

Freedom of speech is the bedrock upon which all other freedoms are built and, therefore, is too precious to leave under the thumb of censorship imposed by this system. Without freedom of speech, what good are our other freedoms, we may ask.

This argument, however, ignores the fact that there is no hierarchy of rights, as Barbara Hall, the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, has said.

For its part, the CBA has explained that freedom of expression in Canada is not an absolute value and that the CBA endorses the view that a properly drawn civil prohibition against the propagation of hate speech is also a reasonable limitation on freedom of expression.

Put another way by my colleague, the member for Mount Royal, all free and democratic societies, including the United States, have recognized certain limitations on freedom of expression in the interest of protecting certain fundamental human values.

As members consider Bill C-304, they should remember three points.

First, as I have established, freedom of expression exists within the context of limitations. The charter itself in section 1 allows for limits on rights.

Second, the Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled on the constitutionality of section 13 in its 1990 decision in the Taylor case, in which the court concluded:

[Section] 13(1) is a justifiable limit on freedom of expression within the meaning of s. 1 of the Charter. Hate propaganda undermines the dignity and self-worth of minority racial and religious groups and erodes the tolerance and open-mindedness which are essential in a multicultural society. The purpose of s. 13(1) is to promote equality and to prevent the harm which hate propaganda causes to targeted groups. This is a pressing and substantial concern. It is of heightened importance because it is supported by other sections of the Charter, namely ss. 15 and 27, and by international human rights instruments to which Canada is signatory.

Third, while the Minister of Justice has argued that section 13 is not an appropriate or effective means for combatting hate propaganda and that the Criminal Code is the best vehicle to prosecute these crimes, the Criminal Code sections on hate speech and section 13 are intended to be complementary and serve different purposes.

Here is how the CBA explains it:

The criminal prohibition in section 319 of the Criminal Code sets an extremely onerous standard. This is appropriate since a criminal conviction for hate speech, like any other criminal offence, carries with it social stigma and a criminal record. Section 13 is for a different purpose (providing remedies to target groups for harm, fostering greater respect for target groups, and changing behaviour), and also applies to conduct that falls short of criminal behaviour but nevertheless poses harm to vulnerable groups.

The CBA concludes:

Given the importance of freedom of expression, it is appropriate that there be a range of options for society to respond to expression that causes harm. Criminal sanctions should be reserved for the worst cases, rather than the only option.

For these three reasons, I believe that a civil remedy for hate speech must continue to exist within human rights legislation. However, as I mentioned at the outset of my remarks, there are indeed legitimate concerns about section 13 as currently written. While there is not sufficient time to explain each one, I feel it is important to list the various amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act that have been suggested.

As my colleague from Mount Royal has suggested, the CHRA could be amended to include a built-in filtering mechanism through the requirement of the consent of the Attorney General of Canada for launching any prosecution, as currently exists in the Criminal Code, to ensure that only the most serious cases go forward.

As the CBA suggests, complaints should only be made in one jurisdiction at a time instead of the current practice of simultaneous federal and provincial complaints.

Moreover, as the CHRC has suggested to Parliament, we could add a statutory definition of hatred and contempt in accordance with the definitions offered by the Supreme Court in the Taylor case, as well as a provision to allow for the early dismissal of a section 13 complaint that does not meet this definition.

An additional amendment could also allow for the costs to be awarded in cases of abuse of process. The right to face one's accuser could also be added to act. Finally, the current provision that allows the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to assess penalties should be removed in order to retain the remedial, and not punitive, nature of human rights law.

I urge the members to chose this path and ask the government to amend section 13 rather than repeal it.

Last month, an intern in my office from Toulouse, France, Olivia-Kelly Lonkeu, gave a presentation on Bill C-304. In her remarks, she said the freedom of speech did not give the right to vilify and had to be used wisely without undermining Canadian values of equality, tolerance and fairness. To be free meant to be respected as well as to respect others, and in that sense one's freedom should not harm the freedom of another citizen. Simply put, one's personal freedom ends where another's begins.

I could not agree more.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Beauce
Québec

Conservative

Maxime Bernier Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to support Bill C-304, introduced by my hon. colleague from Westlock—St. Paul. I would like to congratulate him on this bill. This member is standing up for our freedoms, particularly freedom of opinion and freedom of expression.

I can say that my political career has been somewhat tumultuous, but my goal has always been to defend individual freedom and responsibility. I am proud to be from Beauce, a region that promotes these values, which form the foundation of western society. Today we are speaking about individual freedom, and I am pleased to support this bill.

Freedom of expression is the essential foundation of a free and democratic society. We cannot reject this freedom of expression simply because we do not like what someone is saying about us or about society. We judge a society by its constitution and by its laws. I am proud to be Canadian. I am proud of the Canadian Constitution. In my political activities, I always try to act in a way that respects our Constitution.

We also have a charter, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Paragraph 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms defends and promotes freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. We need to listen to Canadians. Canadians care about respecting freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. If someone stands up and says something that I do not agree with, the most important thing for me, as a politician, is to be able to have a critical, open and honest debate and to inform the public. In our society, some people engage in hate speech and say discriminatory things about certain groups. Section 319 of the Criminal Code prohibits hate propaganda. The Criminal Code is the best tool for this. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act will not achieve this.

I just heard the opposition member say that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, had declared that section unconstitutional and had said that it would like to see changes to section 13. We would like to repeal it, because we know that the Criminal Code contains a provision, section 319, that will reassure Canadians when it comes to hate propaganda against particular groups.

Section 13 is too subjective. It does not give Canadians a general or a specific idea of what they should or should not say. The civil and criminal courts should determine that.

We have a provision that assures Canadians that hate propaganda will always be dealt with as it should be, under the Criminal Code.

Why repeal section 13? It is not a matter of criminal law. In the case of hate speech, you must prove that there was the intent to harm a group, the intent to incite violence, the intent to disturb the peace, and the intent to incite commission of a crime. Inciting violence against a group is a crime. Under section 13, the intent of the individual engaging in hate speech is not considered. For that reason, as a free and democratic society, we must repeal this section, which has been challenged in the courts on a number of occasions. Several cases have been cited in these debates. It is time to abolish this section, and it is our role, as legislators, to introduce legislation that promotes freedom of expression and to ensure that the courts have the tools to fight groups or individuals that communicate hate towards other groups.

Under the Criminal Code, it is an offence to incite hatred by communicating statements in any public place against an identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace. It is also an offence to wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group, other than in private conversation. That is why I feel very comfortable supporting my colleague's bill to repeal section 13 and to depend solely on the Criminal Code.

This is an important day for freedom of expression, and I hope that many of our colleagues opposite will share this point of view. We must promote freedom of expression, and it is possible to do so by repealing section 13. I am convinced that perpetrators of hate crime in Canada will be brought to justice under the Criminal Code.

A number of complaints have been filed under section 13 in an attempt to restrict freedom of expression. With the passage of this bill, we will be able to reassure Quebeckers and Canadians that their freedom of expression will remain protected. No one will be able to use section 13 to restrict their freedom of expression.

We must also reassure Canadians that hate speech against other groups will still be dealt with under the Criminal Code.

It is important to promote freedom of expression. That is an important part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I have a very hard time understanding why some of the opposition members do not support this bill. This bill is critical to a democratic society, and our society depends on freedom of expression. We have to express ourselves here every day. We can express different points of view in the House. The opposition certainly shares different points of view on its vision for this country. We have useful debates, debates that Canadians need to be able to have in public without a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. They should not fear being the subject of a commission inquiry because they have said things that some consider hateful but that are not hateful under the Criminal Code.

Today and in the days to come, by voting in favour of this bill, we will show Canadians that freedom of expression is important to us and that we will continue to protect it. As a politician who believes in individual freedom and responsibility, I certainly support my colleague's work and congratulate him on it. He is standing up for his constituents and defending values and principles underlying Canadian society. I am very proud to support his bill, as are the other members of my party. Today is a great day, and I hope that this bill will come into force as quickly as possible.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I look forward to speaking on Bill C-304. I have a great deal of experience with this in a number of ways, both here as a parliamentarian and at one period of time in my professional career as a lawyer.

In its simplicity, although Bill C-304 has other sections in it, it is really about the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Members have heard this from a number of speeches so far. Clearly on the part of the mover, and I would say generally by the Conservative Party, it is an attempt to appease some of their right-wing ideologues, in the media in particular. It is also in keeping with their right-wing ideology of a society that has no government intervention.

For those of us who support section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, it is about recognizing the nature of what Canada is, what it always has been. At its best, section 13 is what Canada is really about.

We hear demeaning comments from the right wing in this debate that it is really about minor sensitivities that are being offended. However, that is not what section 13 is about. It is about giving the Canadian Human Rights Commission the right to regulate and impose sanctions against people who are prepared to make statements in public, and the big debate more recently has been around telecommunications, statements that are on, and I quote from section 13(1):

...any matter that is 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.

It is talking about statements in writing, over the Internet and electronically communicated that will identify groups and draw hatred and contempt to those groups. That is what section 13 is about. It is about prohibiting that type of behaviour.

We hear from the Conservative side that we can deal with this by the hate propaganda sections of the Criminal Code, specifically section 318. I know that section very well. To my knowledge, there has only been six cases that were ever prosecuted under that section. I successfully defended one of the charges.

I have to say that it is relatively easy to use section 318 in defence of all sorts of heinous types of conduct. However, depending on that section to protect vulnerable groups who are the subject of contempt and hatred is like using the mace to tap in a small nail. It is a gross overreach.

Section 318 came into effect sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It has been in existence for over 40 years now, but has only been used six times, and the penalties are quite severe. It requires that every case be approved by the attorney general of the province to allow it to be used.

In defence of section 13, it is a mechanism to help protect vulnerable groups in our society. I think of members of the Jewish community who have historically been a target for anti-Semitic attacks. More recently, members of the Islamic community has been subject to attacks because of their faith. I think of members of Afro-Canadian communities who have a lengthy history of being attacked because of the colour of their skin or continent that they come from. We can go down the list.

There are problems with the Canadian Human Rights Act, but they can be fixed. Amendments could be brought forward that would reform it. We need to develop the jurisprudence around this section. We have not done that very well up to this point, I will admit, but that can be remedied.

We need two levels. We need the Criminal Code for the more severe types of hate propaganda and so section 318 should remain. It is working for the purpose for which it was designed. However, it is not designed to deal with this type of hatred or contempt brought against identifiable groups. Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is to be used for that purpose. We should be supporting it, maybe with some reform.

We need two tiers in order to have a free society for individuals who are regularly targeted by anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic people. We can include homophobia as well. There are a number of areas where the language used draws hatred and contempt to an identifiable group. Canadians as a society are saying no, that it not the kind of society we want. We want an organization or tribunal to be able to express our contempt for those who are prepared to do that, put a stop to the use of that kind of material and impose some type of penalty to express the revulsion that society feels for people who are prepared to use discriminatory, hateful language against other identifiable groups in our society. We need both tiers.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I am finding it very distracting.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I agree with the hon. member. There are many conversations going on. I am sure there are a number of members who would like to hear what the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh is saying. I would ask for indulgence. If members wish to have conversations, they could perhaps use the exterior lobbies.

The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, we need these two tiers. I am absolutely convinced of that. The Criminal Code, our criminal justice system, is, like the mace, too harsh a tool to be used in the vast majority of cases.

I want to address some of the problems with section 13. This section has been in the act since 1977. It is not a new section. It has been amended on a couple of occasions. It really became a problem with the advent of the Internet, the amount of hate literature that was on the Internet and the attempt by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to intervene and try to shut some of that down, if not all of it. Society, as a whole, needs to tell the bigots and hate-mongers they cannot do it and we have a mechanism we are going to use to shut them down. This is not about a debate over free speech. This type of speech, like slander, defamation and libel, we have recognized historically people cannot do.

I want to make one other argument in terms of addressing what we are hearing from the government side. Conservatives say this is a major interference with freedom of speech. That was the same type of argument that I heard repeatedly throughout the 1960s and 1970s as society moved to prevent discrimination in hiring and residences. I could go down the list. We heard usually from right-wing people that they had a right to discriminate, that they did not want someone whose skin was a different colour living next door to them. We heard that they had a right to do that, that they did not have to employ people because of the colour of their skin. We have said that is not acceptable in our society. Now, if we keep section 13, we are saying the same thing about that kind of language being used against those identifiable groups.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

St. Catharines
Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, I have waited all day for the opportunity to speak to this bill. I am certainly honoured to speak to Bill C-304, put forward by the member for Westlock—St. Paul. I recall, as will the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, back in the 39th Parliament, when he and I both served on the justice committee, I had moved a motion to have the committee do a complete and fulsome review of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act for the very reason we are speaking about today, to repeal that portion of the act.

When I was appointed as parliamentary secretary, I was no longer able to sit on the justice committee. Obviously, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, I had new responsibilities.

I certainly want to congratulate the member for Westlock—St. Paul. Upon being named to the justice committee in the 40th Parliament, he immediately picked up the issue, pursued it and moved forward with it. After three years of doing a lot of work on the issue he has introduced his private member's bill. I commend him for his efforts in pushing forward on this very important legislation as a private member. We all know how few private members' bills actually move forward and receive royal assent and are enacted. It is a special opportunity that he has. He has done a tremendous job to get his bill this far.

I also want to speak to the point the member for Windsor—Tecumseh made. He spoke about having two tiers when it came to freedom of speech, that there somehow needs to be two tiers in terms of deciding what is or is not hate speech. I find that phrase to be extremely ironic when it is the belief of both the member and his party that there should not be a two-tier health care system, that there only needs to be one tier, that being the health care system we now have in this country which all of us believe in. However, when it comes to freedom of speech, two tiers is not only something he spoke about but something he thinks needs to exist. I think it is a dichotomy. I would hope the member for Windsor--Tecumseh would think a bit about the statement he made this afternoon in terms of, in one case two tiers not being okay yet being acceptable in another case. Either it is or it is not. He cannot have it both ways.

The Canadian Human Rights Act is intended to prevent and resolve cases of discrimination. It is not criminal law. Yet section 13 has subjected many Canadians to a quasi-judicial process for making statements that are not hate speech. Section 13 is simply not an appropriate or effective means for combatting hate propaganda. The Criminal Code is the best vehicle to do so. Intentional wrongdoing is within the scope of criminal law and there are already hate propaganda offences within our Criminal Code. It is an offence to incite hatred by communicating statements in any public place against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.

It is also an offence to wilfully promote hatred by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, against any identifiable group. These are criminal offences. They are committed only if the speaker acts with criminal intent. Because they are criminal offences, they carry the full procedural protections of the criminal law, the due process that section 13 simply lacks.

Under similar provincial legislation, John Fulton, a business owner in my riding of St. Catharines, was accused of discrimination. The charges were eventually dropped against him but John was left with legal bills of roughly $150,000 and he did not have the chance to defend himself. He was never given that opportunity. In fact, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal then said that he had no right to compensation for legal expenses, even though the charges and allegations were completely and utterly dismissed.

Section 13 puts too much onus on defendants. Defendants are not always permitted to face their accusers. Normal standards for the validity of evidence do not apply. The government funds the plaintiff but the defendant is left to himself or herself. Most disturbingly, the absolute truth is not an acceptable defence. With all of these advantages, people have been able to plainly and simply take advantage of this part of the act. Who and what is censored by section 13 depends on who has the time and resources needed to pursue a section 13 complaint.

If the point of a section 13 complaint is only to pursue the speaker, then this should be done in a more formal system with better procedural safeguards. I am standing in this House to ensure that the people of St. Catharines, people like John Fulton, do not have their life and reputation damaged by this well-intentioned but seriously flawed legislation.

We all recognize that a law against hate propaganda is necessary to prevent the evils of discrimination. That exists within the Criminal Code. Section 319 of the Criminal Code contains two hate propaganda offences. These offences do not cover as many groups as section 13. For example, hate speech based on national origin, age, sex and mental or physical disability is not covered. It is for this reason that our government introduced an amendment to fill this gap. We are amending section 319 of the Criminal Code to add national origin, age, sex and mental or physical disability to the definition of identifiable groups.

I had an opportunity to speak to section 319 of the Criminal Code very recently. This means that it would now be a criminal offence to publicly incite and wilfully promote hatred based on these grounds. This means that our government is protecting the rights of minorities while preserving the right of free speech.

Dean Steacy, the lead investigator at the Human Rights Commission, once testified that freedom of speech was not given any value. That is unacceptable. The best way to fight bigotry is to ensure that we protect and enhance our fundamental freedoms. We must especially protect freedom of speech, which is the very bedrock of our parliamentary democracy and the democracy of this country.

In practice, section 13 is conflicted with section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights which guarantees that everyone has freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. While charter rights are subject to reasonable limits prescribed by law, section 13 does not clearly describe these limits and this has led to highly subjective interpretations of freedom of expression.

The wording in the Human Rights Act leaves it so unclear as to what constitutes an act of hatred or contempt that former Liberal member of Parliament, Keith Martin, rightly described it as “a hole you could drive a Mack truck through”. This is why section 13's overly broad hate speech provision was ruled to be unconstitutional in 2009.

We need the Canadian Human Rights Act to preserve our rights, not to take them away. We cannot allow one badly written section to undermine a defendant's right to due process and the free speech of every Canadian.

On behalf of people, like John Fulton, who have had their rights challenged by the Human Rights Commission, I ask all members of this House, regardless of party and partisanship, because it speaks to the freedom, the very bedrock of our democracy, to support Bill C-304. We will create a system where charter rights like freedom of expression and due process are valued and minorities are protected by our Criminal Code.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I will now invite the hon. member for Westlock—St. Paul for his right of reply. The hon. member will have five minutes.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by acknowledging all my colleagues who have stuck around and participated in the debate. As it is Valentine's Day, I thank them and their spouses for allowing them to be here to participate in it. I also thank my lovely spouse who is here supporting me tonight, giving up part of our Valentine's Day.

The purpose of the bill is to protect our fundamental freedoms. The core freedom, the pillar of our democratic society, is the freedom of expression. It has been argued on the other side that all freedoms are about equal. However, without the freedom of expression, the freedom of religion and the freedom of assembly have less value if we do not have freedom of expression to go with them. This is the tool that all truly free and democratic societies use to push the societal norms.

Open debates in our society are not just necessary, they are imperative to having a healthy and free western democratic society. Open debates are what this place was built on. It is what our society was built on.

Canadian Human Rights Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

It's not happening lately.