Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'll endeavour to do my best not to be cut off.
Mr. Chair, to begin, I would like to thank you and the committee for the opportunity to discuss my private member's bill, Bill C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom).
This is an issue that has been near and dear to my heart for a number of years. I am thankful to have received support from a large number of my colleagues, numerous media outlets, and most importantly, Canadians, on this important and often overlooked issue.
Bill C-304 will help protect and enhance our most fundamental freedom, freedom of expression. Without freedom of expression, one must ask oneself what value freedom of religion or freedom of assembly holds. Freedom of expression is truly the bedrock upon which all other freedoms are built, and section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act directly erodes this fundamental freedom.
Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act has been a contentious topic for a number of years. It has been widely acknowledged that it impedes upon paragraph 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that every individual has the fundamental “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”.
This conflict between section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and paragraph 2(b) of the charter was reaffirmed in 2008 by Professor Richard Moon, who was hand-picked by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to review the act. He stated on page 31 of his report that “the principal recommendation of this report is that section 13 be repealed so that the censorship of Internet hate speech is dealt with exclusively by the criminal law”. It was reaffirmed once again in 2009 by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal itself, which found section 13 to be unconstitutional.
Over the past few months I have had many opportunities to attend a number of conferences and annual general meetings to discuss with Canadians across our country my private member's bill and the implications of repealing section 13. Most people are astounded when they hear that our fundamental freedoms can be overruled by a quasi-judicial body that feels that something you said was likely to have exposed another individual or group to hatred or contempt. Canadians find it difficult to believe that such a loosely written and vague law has the power to undermine the fundamental rights Canada so proudly bases its democracy upon and which men and women have given their lives defending.
While section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act may have been implemented with well-meaning intentions in an effort to combat discrimination and hate speech, its implications reach much further. It is this zone of ambiguity we should all be concerned about.
Section 13 states:
It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, 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.
I'd like to emphasize, Mr. Chair, “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred”.
Subsection (2) goes on to extend this law to matters that are communicated by means of a computer or the Internet.
What this really means is that the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal only have to feel that you were likely to have offended someone. This is not a narrowly defined legal definition, which would be far more appropriate.
Under section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, truth is not a defence. Intent is not a defence. You no longer have the right to due process, the right to a speedy trial, or the right to an attorney. It is alarming that, until recently, the Human Rights Tribunal had a 100% conviction rate, with 90% of defendants failing to obtain legal advice, because they simply could not afford it. At the same time, the legal costs of the plaintiffs are fully covered.
These are not the characteristics of an open and democratic society that promotes equality and fairness. These provisions are provided to any other individual in any other court in Canada under the Criminal Code. This is a clear depiction of censorship overstepping its bounds through an overzealous bureaucracy.
This is one of the reasons I have introduced Bill C-304, protecting freedom. It is an effort to reconstruct freedom of expression as a cornerstone of our great country. To achieve this, complaints must be directed to a fair, open, and transparent judicial system, not a broken system that prides itself on operating behind closed doors.
By repealing section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, Canadians will be given back the right to be offended and individuals will have recourse to hate speech through the Criminal Code of Canada. The continued use of the Criminal Code to address hate messaging will ensure that all individuals are protected from threatening discriminatory acts, while preserving the fundamental right to freedom of expression in our country. It gives back the right to a fair, open, and transparent trial. It gives back the right to face your accuser. It gives back the right to allowable defences, such as truth or intent. It even gives back the right to recover costs should the claim be dismissed.
The Criminal Code has been tried and tested. It is ingrained with a system of checks and balances, a system in which society has entrusted its fundamental freedoms and has seen fit to enforce the rule of law in our country.
The solution here is not to take a band-aid approach and address the superficial inadequacies of section 13. The fundamental deficiencies and broken structure will still be there. These issues cannot simply be fixed through amendments, as section 13 would still be imposed under the discretion of a quasi-judicial system, and the fundamental principles that guide the implementation of section 13 would continue to create a two-tiered system of hate speech, which I find simply not appropriate.
I believe the solution is to use the laws we already have and to provide authorities with the tools and support necessary. This step will ensure the successful transition in which true democracy and freedom of speech can thrive so that society can continue to grow and adapt peacefully.
It is through freedom of speech and expression that we change governments—or not, in the case of Alberta last night—not through riots and revolts. It is how we test societal norms and successfully develop. It is through freedom of expression that we have shaped and will continue to shape our great nation.
I would like to challenge this committee to look beyond the intent of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act and truly examine its structure and implications, and consider what we, as a free and democratic society, are willing to give up.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your comments and questions. God bless.