House of Commons Hansard #181 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Two or three minutes at most.

Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Is the hon. member allowed to go on for two or three minutes?

Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Some hon. members


Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The hon. member for Portneuf may continue.

Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. With respect to hate propaganda, section 318 of the Criminal Code indicates that anyone who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred is guilty of an offence. The Code defines "statements" as words spoken or written or recorded and "public place" as any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, express or implied.

As can be seen, what makes a statement characterized by hate or obscenity criminal is the fact that it affects the public. What goes on between two individuals or in a private group of individuals concerns them alone. But as soon as a statement becomes accessible to anyone at all, it is deemed to be in a public place.

Understandably the law must be implemented fairly and consistently. Thus, if the law prohibits certain actions, persons committing those actions should be dealt with in the same manner, whether the actions were committed in a business, in the street or on a telecommunications network. But we must not confuse the messenger with the message, with the initiator of the message, and think that the networks are responsible for what they carry, any more than we should hold the telephone companies or Canada Post responsible for the nature of the calls or mail they transmit.

Is it possible to identify where these documents originate? Not only is it possible, but it is quite easy, because each document is preceded by the destination address and the originating address. Of course, some organizations offer the possibility of anonymity. But in the case where a criminal act has been committed, they can reveal the sender's address.

Therefore, in Canada we are able to deal with these concerns. The problem is that most of these statements come from abroad. I did some research and it appears that Canada signed several international treaties dealing with hate propaganda: the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Consequently, Canada should make arrangements with the other signatories to ensure that each of these countries will, at the request of another signatory, deal with the source of hate propaganda, obscene items, or with the sale of goods or services, on its own territory, which contravene its laws or the laws of the country making the request.

Although the motion tabled by the hon. member for Winnipeg North deals only refers to these issues indirectly, I understand that its object is to ensure that the law is applied consistently and that it is not more or less stringent when electronic means are used. This is why I will support motion M-384.

Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hon. colleague for Winnipeg North for the intent and thrust of the bill.

The introduction of a private member's bill in the House is the start of a long and torturous journey before the motion may become law and it may be amended before it gets there. What we are talking about today is the general intent of what we should be striving to achieve, for the kind of society which we want, what we find decent in our society and what we intuitively recognize and know as wrong and indecent.

Earlier we had a very difficult circumstance to wrestle with, the infamous killer cards. About this time last year we were being inundated with petitions from outraged Canadians from coast to coast asking why we allow this kind of trash to be distributed in Canada. There has not been one word spoken about it in recent times because Canadians, by and large, are pretty decent people. We recognize something which has no value. If it has no value it will not be supported and the normal market forces will cause the demise of whatever should not be around. That is exactly what happened with killer cards. They have fallen from the national agenda.

The point is just because that happened does not give us the freedom to say it is a perfect world and we do not have to worry about people who would spread hate and spread propaganda and sow the seeds of dissension and hurt in our society.

That is what this bill is all about. That is the intention. It is the general intention we support.

I do not believe it is possible to legislate morality. I do not think it is possible to legislate good taste. I do not think it is possible to write legislation that will keep hate propaganda or distasteful things we do not like to see off the information highway.

We should make our general intent very clearly understood so when the courts are adjudicating on a particular issue they know full well where Parliament stands representing the citizens of Canada.

We should stand shoulder to shoulder against the pernicious spread of hate propaganda and things that would hurt our society. We also have to stand shoulder to shoulder in protecting freedom of speech. Here we have these two conflicting ideals. How do we go about rationalizing and resolving these two conflicting ideas?

We have to use the whole notion of responsibility. We have to ensure anyone can get on to the information highway. We cannot prevent it in any event and so why bother trying? The information highway has grown from a year ago of 25,000 networks to 70,000 networks. The growth is exponential.

We should think of the information highway as the world's largest library with no librarian and no index. To try to put a handle on it will not work.

We should be working toward ensuring that when our courts have to make a decision based on the freedom of access to Internet that it comes back to personal responsibility. We have to ensure that everyone who gets on to the information highway recognizes they will be held accountable and responsible for what they do, just as it is done in our daily lives today.

All of us have and enjoy freedom of speech. It is part of of our culture. It is us. We also recognize that with freedom comes responsibility. We have the responsibility to use that freedom responsibly. That means I cannot go into a crowded movie theatre and yell "fire". I cannot do that with impugnity.

I can go outside and yell "fire" and people would think I am a nut. If I did the same thing in a crowded movie theatre where my actions put other people at risk I would be considered a criminal.

That is the distinction and the whole notion of personal responsibility. That is why it is so important this debate take place and that the intention of Parliament is very clear to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court at least in recent years needs some clear direction.

I do not think our Supreme Court gets up every morning wondering how to best represent the people of Canada. In my opinion in recent years the Supreme Court has been getting up in the morning wondering how to push the limits of tolerance of ordinary citizens to the expansion of these charter ideals until it drives everybody crazy.

This debate is of extreme importance. It should not be taken lightly. We are not, at least I think I speak for most people in the House, in any way constricting the right of freedom of speech. We are sending a very clear message that one had better be prepared to accept responsibility for what one does.

Earlier my hon. colleague and friend from Portneuf mentioned that the Internet is by and large self-policing. Those who have used Internet will notice if anybody does or says something outrageous on Internet it does not take very long before they are overwhelmed by a response from other people on the Internet saying it is not right.

I do not think we should dismiss the potential and strength of self-policing. For instance, when people in a bar having a beer together are spreading these ideas and reinforcing each other's ideas it is very different than putting an idea across the Internet and being responded to by an avalanche of people saying: "You're crazy, you're wrong", just as my hon. colleague from Portneuf mentioned.

We need to put this into perspective as well. There have been some particularly good articles written about smut on Internet. An article which appeared in the Globe and Mail recently made the suggestion that everybody who was on Internet was an oversexed teenager. That is not the way it is.

That certainly is part of life but I defy anybody to go to a corner store and buy a quart of milk without passing a magazine rack. We do have choices in our lives and we have to make them. We can either stop and buy a smut magazine or we can pass them by. It is a personal choice and a personal responsibility.

Using the same analogy, these magazines are now, as a result of pornography laws in Canada, not displayed where kids can get at them. They are displayed high up and many of them are covered. What do we do in a situation in which we have the expansion of the information highway through which young people are far more familiar with the mechanics of it than we are?

This poses a fairly difficult problem. How do we go about keeping our children from scanning some of these very offensive things like Deathnet and others and still keep this freedom of information and freedom of speech alive? It is kind of like a lockout. Parents have to take responsibility for their children. It goes back to personal responsibility.

I think of the people in Edmonton waging this lonely but very valid and important war. Their son committed suicide and their concern is that his suicide was as a result of depression which was enhanced because of his addiction to listening to CDs of Nirvana and death music and that sort of thing.

It is part of our society and it is incumbent on us as members of Parliament to do what we can to get at root causes of problems and try to make the extra effort so that we keep our society the kind of society it is by and large today, the kind in which we want our children and our families to grow up.

Again I congratulate the hon. member for Winnipeg North for bringing this to the House. It will be a difficult and torturous journey but it is certainly worth it.

Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Andy Scott Liberal Fredericton—York—Sunbury, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the motion put forward by my colleague from Winnipeg North.

The idea of the propagation of hatred, regardless of whether it is through the computerized bulletin boards and the Internet, is morally repugnant and has been acknowledged as such in Canadian law.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada anyone who by communicating statements other than in private conversation wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for up to two years. It is also a violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

It is the government's responsibility to ensure public spaces, whether cyberspace or not, are free from incitements of hatred against any particular group in society. We must be vigilant. It is not enough to be against racism, we must also be willing to fight it.

We cannot fall into the trap of only fighting when it is simple, easy and clear. Sometimes it is not easy. Questions of freedom of speech and freedom of academic expression enter the debate but we cannot hedge because we find the issues difficult. We must bring tolerance and societal rejection of racism to bear entirely in that debate.

I quote from the Canadian Bar Association, 1984: "Canada has never recognized the concept of unlimited freedom of expression. In order to prevent harm to others, Canadian legislators have imposed a number of reasonable limits on freedom of expression".

Laws in Canadian society which limit the ability of individuals to communicate hate are based both on international standards and on the the specific character of Canadian society. Canada has signed two international conventions which require us as citizens of the world to prevent the spread of hate propaganda.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was ratified by Canada in 1947 and reinforced by article 20 of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada ratified in 1976.

Further it should be noted that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not necessarily guarantee an unlimited right to free speech. Section 27 of the charter states: "This Charter shall be interpreted in a manner consistent with the preservation and enhancement of the multicultural heritage of Canada". Thus, one may argue that hate propaganda has no place in the political discussion of a multicultural society.

The information highway is currently being used by over 40 million people. It can be an instrument of good or an instrument of evil. For example, information can instantly be shared between a university library in Germany with an online university in New Brunswick. It compresses time and distance like no other technology yet developed.

It creates a truly global village in which we can all profit from the gains in knowledge in countries halfway around the world, simply with the click of a button. On Parliament Hill and in federal departments, this technology is being introduced and used.

Since the government is actively promoting the use of the technology, we have a responsibility to guard its innocence because it is not only a tool used for good, but also for evil. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and Holocaust deniers have news groups that propagate their messages of hate and intolerance toward minorities over the Internet. These messages are fully accessible to the public.

I have read some of these messages and they are filled with racial slurs and disgusting language. Not only are they using the Internet as a conduit for their messages of intolerance, but I am advised pro-Nazi groups have recruitment programs in which they go to schools and encourage young people to embrace their ideologies.

These postings on the Internet can easily be found by children, who many would agree, and as my colleague has mentioned, are among the most knowledgeable about this technology. Many use the info highway in schools and have greater understanding of it than their parents.

The child can easily be one step ahead of the adult, leaving the parent powerless in monitoring the child's activities and open to these postings. These messages have a powerful impact on young minds. Herein lies the difficulty of parental control and why it is important for the government to be engaged in this exercise and to enact legislation that would actively prohibit this kind of message from being sent in the first place.

Because of the complexity of this problem, it is important for the government to establish a centre of responsibility to deal not only with this question, but with questions of trade, copyright issues and education, either by establishing a minister for this technology or designating responsibility to an existing department, or beyond that, it should be done by the Minister of Industry.

We could follow the model of New Brunswick, where there is already a secretary of state responsible for the information highway. There has been considerable debate in my own constituency of Fredericton-York-Sunbury around the propagation of hatred on the Internet. It is my intention to strike a committee that would make recommendations through me both to the Minister of Industry and his advisory committee and to Parliament on how some of these issues should be tackled. It is a new problem and there is a need for broad input.

However, there must be a balance. We cannot let our efforts here lead to incidents of excessive restrictions on speech. It is an important right that cannot be ignored. There are laws against the enticement of hatred against certain groups and they also must be upheld, improved and their values applied to new realities.

As a government we must promote the truth. We must also be aware of those who are promoting another agenda. It is my personal belief that within all of us is the instinct for tolerance, fairness and compassion. It is only out of fear, misinformation and insecurity that we turn to emotions that are less generous.

This is a global problem. If Canada were to adopt legislation that would screen out certain messages, there is nothing stopping someone from simply clicking to another country and signing on from there. They would have access to everything. That is why we need to work with other nations in formulating guidelines for the information superhighway. The Group of Seven meeting this summer in Halifax would be an ideal event at which to engage our fellow member countries in the discussion.

If we could agree on a vision for the future of this technology, it would be a great step forward. We are a fair-minded, resourceful and enlightened population and our resolve should not be diminished by the magnitude of the task. I am confident that a solution will be found which will ensure that everyone, regard-

less of ethnicity or lifestyle choice, will be able to use the electronic highway free from fear of harassment and verbal abuse.

I am pleased to second the motion of the hon. member for Winnipeg North. I call on all members to say no to the propagation of hatred, regardless of the medium.

Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Keith Martin Reform Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to support the bill of my friend and colleague from across the way on this very important and much ignored aspect of the late 20th century.

Freedom of speech is something which we in our country have held in the highest regard. It is a pillar of a truly democratic society and, as such, sets us apart from the restrictive, abusive and undemocratic societies that we have seen about us in the past, such as those in Nazi Germany and in China. We have seen repression where freedom of speech has not been recognized. In fact, not having freedom of speech has enabled the few to stifle the many.

However, like most rules we have in this world they are inviolable. They too are subject to perversions, but when common sense and logic are applied to them they bear no resemblance whatsoever to what was the intended rule. Freedom of speech is no different.

We live in a world today which our forefathers could not have imagined and which those individuals who constructed the aspects of freedom of speech as being a pillar of democracy could not have imagined. They could not have thought or dreamed of the challenges which we face today. As such, they could not imagine the ways in which people could use free speech as a shield or as protection to blatantly incite hatred, violence and prejudice against other individuals. They could not have imagined this because they could not have imagined something like Internet.

I will give the House some examples of what has occurred on Internet recently. In my region of Vancouver Island, in the city of Victoria, something called a deathnet has occurred. Specifically, it caters to teenagers and children. It is a program on how to commit suicide. It tells them how to do it with plastic bags, glue, knives, ropes and chemicals.

We have lauded the aspects of freedom of speech and freedom of choice. As adults we presumably have the experience and the knowledge to make informed choices. However, where this falls apart is when we are dealing with children. All of us in the House will recognize that one of the aspects of children is that they do not have the maturity, the knowledge and the experience to make informed choices. Where the Internet differs from the magazine racks in our local corner stores is that in the corner store children do not have a choice to make because the material is too high. They are also monitored by the individuals who work in the stores. That is not so with Internet.

Internet is basically a free-for-all. One of the sectors of our society that is the most literate in computers is youth. Many youths are more facile with computers than many individuals in the House, myself in particular.

We also have hate mongering by the KKK and other groups whose main intent has been to put forth abusive, hateful, spiteful information on the deathnet for no good cause whatsoever.

This cannot continue. That is why my colleague who is a physician and a very concerned person has put forward this initiative. He has experience in these matters as a pediatrician. He knows full well the dangers of allowing very impressionable children to be subjected to this type of information. As I have said before, adults are a different matter altogether. They have choice but that does not necessarily apply to children.

There are laws which apply to the wire media, the print media. There are rules and regulations which apply to hate mongering, child pornography and such. There is no logical reason that these reasonable rules cannot also be applied to the Internet. There have been concerns that no, it is not possible to do this because there are too many access points and there are too many people logged on.

This country has proven to be a world leader in so many areas. We can continue to do so by taking that leadership role on the Internet. We can show the world we are not prepared to have hate mongering within our country.

It is interesting to note that the United States Congress and Senate also have a bill relating to the proliferation of this type of information on the Internet. It is a worthwhile endeavour. Perhaps through my colleague's initiative we as a country can work with our neighbours to the south to push for this worthy cause.

Just because it is difficult does not mean to say it is impossible. A few other concerns exist on the Internet. I am sure they will rise in the course of the prolonged discussions which will come out of this initiative. They also involve personal privacy and security of information.

Many of us in this House are aware that a number of recent cases have come up of people's security and personal information which are protected under the law but violated through the Internet. Cyberspace is a free for all. Freedoms are good but when they are abused against the common good, it is intolerable and unacceptable to Canadian society.

I will close by giving my wholehearted support to my colleague for this initiative. It is worthwhile. We should not buy the argument that freedom of speech is something that is inviolable. Like all rules, it can be subject to exceptions.

The main reason for doing this is not so much for the adults because of the freedoms we have but primarily for the children. It is impossible, no matter how hard we try, to prevent children from logging on and seeing the stuff.

For their betterment and for the betterment of Canadian society, I hope this House will take it upon itself to support the initiative of my colleague.

Hate PropagandaPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

It being 2.30 p.m., this House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 2.30 p.m.)