That, in the opinion of this House, the government should move with speed to adopt legislative measures aimed at stopping the spread of hate propaganda via the electronic information highway while simultaneously preserving legitimate use of the freedom of speech and expression.
Mr. Speaker, the motion before us appeals to our core Canadian values: respect for dignity, respect for self-worth, and respect for the equality of all individuals. These values are pillars of Canadian society. They are the glue that holds the Canadian mosaic together. They are tools of harmony. We are therefore fiercely proud of these values. They are the foundation of this private member's motion.
The motion raises two fundamental questions: What is the interrelationship between the information highway and the freedom of speech and expression? How can we as a people protect our core societal values without impinging on the core area of the freedom of expression? Before I address these questions Mr. Speaker, permit me to give an overview of the information technology revolution and what it means for Canadians and Canada in the world.
Indeed, we as peoples of the earth have entered the information age. Information technology has reached a level of progress which now gives people the ability to communicate with others around the world via a network of computer systems popularly known as the information highway or superhighway. Although the phrase comprises many aspects, the computer network most nearly synonymous with it is the Internet.
The Internet revolution started in the 1960s when the U.S. defence department linked its various sites. By the late 1970s this had expanded to universities around the globe. The real turning point came within the last couple of years with the introduction of the World Wide Web. Now the Internet encompasses more than 30,000 networks and 2.5 million computers. There are as many as 35 million users in more than 100 countries. Today one needs only a personal computer, a modem
and a telephone line to gain access to this amazing new information highway.
Three basic services are available: electronic or e-mail, news groups also known as bulletin boards, and files. With these services anyone in the world can send a message at minimal cost, post and look for messages on almost an infinite range of topics and can also pick up information in the form of files which contain text, images, data, and even sounds. Indeed, Internet puts an incredible wealth of information at one's fingertips.
It is a source of pride for Canada that some of its corporate citizens such as Northern Telecom, Unitel, Stentor, Videotron, Rogers Communications and Bell Canada, have played continuing leadership roles in the advent and growth of the critical technologies, chief of which are digital communication, wireless communication and fibre optic transmission. Canada stands to gain from these technologies which have the power to narrow the physical distances of our natural vast geography.
The new technologies are utterly revolutionizing the way Canadians work, learn and interact with one another. It is in recognition of this reality and of the benefits that can ensue from it that the Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education, also known as CANARIE, a seven-year $1.2 billion project, was launched by the government in 1993.
The project aims to develop the communications infrastructure that will enhance Canadian competitiveness in all economic sectors and thereby result in job creation and quality of life for all. A nationwide high speed telecommunications backbone is essential to making Canada's competitiveness in the world economy that much more secure. Economic prosperity means jobs for people which can only enhance self-reliance in our citizens and our country and strengthen our national identity.
Let me now address the two questions raised by my motion. What is the interrelationship between the information highway and the freedom of speech and expression? How can we as a people protect our core societal values without impinging on the core area of freedom of expression?
As with any tool of economic prosperity, the information highway presents new social challenges. One such challenge is to ensure that the information highway does not become a highway of hate, does not become a vehicle of harm.
The Globe and Mail recently reported that notorious Holocaust skeptic Ernst Zundel plans to spread his vicious campaign of lies and deceit via the Internet. Neo-Nazis worldwide are already using the Internet to spread their racist ideology. More recent examples of postings on the bulletin boards were threatening messages from the Ku Klux Klan. One has only to look at news groups such as alt.skinheads, alt.politics.nationalist.white, or alt.politics.white-power to see the continuing and increasing presence of such hateful electronic words.
Persistence of hate messages on the Internet certainly should invite the attention of government to move in and regulate. The ability to reach a wide audience via the Internet without regulation has resulted in the proliferation of speech which many Canadians find hurtful and which, if published or broadcast through traditional media, would likely have attracted prosecution.
Let me reiterate my motion:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should move with speed to adopt legislative measures aimed at stopping the spread of hate propaganda via the electronic information highway while simultaneously preserving legitimate use of freedom of speech and expression.
My motion calls on this House of Commons to exercise its will and urges the government to act and to act now. I trust all colleagues in the House will endorse this motion. My faith lies in my belief that no one member of Parliament would oppose halting the spread of hate propaganda, that no one member of Parliament would insist that there cannot be limits to freedom of expression. I submit that nothing, not even freedom, is absolute.
First, what constitutes hate in our judicial system? The Supreme Court of Canada defines hate as:
-an emotion of an intense and extreme nature that is clearly associated with vilification and detestation. It is an emotion that, if exercised against any section of the public distinguished by religion, colour, race or ethnic origin, implies that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill treatment on the basis of group affiliation.
The spread of hateful propaganda is now covered under section 319 of the Criminal Code. The code identifies two ways by which offences can occur. One is by incitement, that is, by communicating in a public place words likely to lead to a breach of the peace. The other is by wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group through the communication of statements other than in private conversation.
It therefore appears to me that section 319 of the Criminal Code could be applied to prohibit the kind of high tech hate propaganda this motion seeks to eliminate.
Certainly accessing the Internet involves communicating by telephone or visible means via the computer which is essential to the definition of communicating in the code. Certainly also the Internet could be considered a public place because it is a place to which the public has access, if not by right at least by invitation expressed or implied since one could buy in via a
service provider. Certainly also the messages on the Internet constitute statements since the code's definition of statements includes "words recorded electronically".
At this juncture, may I note in this House that I do not know of any criminal prosecution in Canada, despite repeated postings of hate messages on the Internet. Neither has there been any prosecution under section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act where case law has documented the applicability to this issue.
Why has there not been any prosecution of the electronic posters of this century? Is the difficulty related to the determination of exactly who may be held liable: the network, the operator, or the author of the hateful message? Is the difficulty related to tracing the exact authorship or the point of origin of the message? Is the difficulty related to authors being beyond the jurisdiction of Canada? Is the difficulty due to lack of interest on the part of local police and provincial attorneys general? Or does the difficulty reflect the complexity of day to day and moment to moment monitoring of the Internet?
Be that as it may, the Canadian public wants to know. I acknowledge that the Information Highway Advisory Council established by the federal government last year has identified a regulatory role for the government to play. I quote: "It supports the principle that freedom of expression be preserved on the information highway consistent with Canadian law". I underscore the phrase consistent with Canadian law.
This private member's motion is therefore consistent with that recommendation of the council. The council has further identified that it is in the midst of reviewing the capacity of existing laws to address this situation. I will certainly defer to the observation of the council on this particular point, acknowledging that I am not a member of the legal provision.
I submit that if current hate laws do apply, we need to implement them. If current hate laws cannot apply, we need new measures. What then do I mean by "adapt legislative measures" in my motion? I have used this term in a generic sense. It implies passing new measures on the assumption that current hate laws, for whatever subtleties of legal interpretation, may not be fully capable of coping with the issue before us.
I envision that new measures could include a variety of approaches. I will mention a few.
Parliament, for example, could legislate a national code of ethics or conduct to govern Internet service providers. This could include a mandate for the creation of a complaint body that would enforce the code through a predetermined process for resolution.
Parliament could set aside a modest budgetary item to launch a public education campaign to inform and advise Internet users and service providers as well as parents, school children, teachers and the public at large about proper use of the information highway, about the privilege it offers and the responsibilities we must bear.
The government, through Parliament, could also consider setting aside funds to help facilitate the development of technologies such as adaptive software filters, which homes and families could use to prevent hate messages from being seen.
To address the issue of source beyond our borders, Canada must ensure the obligations under international convenants and agreements against hate propaganda are met and that other signatory states are equally reminded of their obligations. If need be a new global treaty could be drafted, as has been advanced as an idea by the Solicitor General as one possible approach to address the issue. There could be other approaches. We must explore them.
At this point I would like to return to the part of the motion that deals with freedom of expression. The Supreme Court of Canada ruling on two recent cases has identified the purpose of this essential guarantee, namely: "to permit free expression to the end of promoting truth, political or social participation and self-fulfilment".
Mr. Justice John Sopinka of the Supreme Court of Canada, speaking November 1994 at the symposium on free speech and privacy in the information age said: "These values lie at the core of the freedom of expression". It is in this spirit that both section 319 of the Criminal Code and section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act have been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The court has deemed that these legal provisions constitute a reasonable limit on the freedom of speech and expression since the freedom is only minimally impaired when weighed against the sufficient importance of the legislative objectives, namely, to respect the dignity, self-worth and equality of all individuals.
The government must act quickly. Technology is advancing at a rapid pace but we know that the task we face is a daunting one. We must also acknowledge that the problem is not unique to Canada, nor is the search for a solution.
The United States Congress is also now in search of one. It has before it the communications decency act of 1995, which would impose a $100,000 fine on anyone who uses computers to "annoy, abuse, threaten or harass".
The Canadian Information Highway Advisory Council, in its recent report, describes Canada's goal for the information highway this way: "The vision is to establish a network of
communities around the globe in the fullest pursuit of individual expression, creativity, learning opportunities and entrepreneurship. Its essence is to provide a medium for us to achieve our goals as individuals and as a nation".
These are noble goals. The mission can only be accomplished if all Canadians are made to feel welcome in cyberspace. It can only be accomplished if hate and intolerance are not part of the emerging language of the information highway.
I urge all members to take the opportunity to speak out for the sake of our common future. Whether the information highway is to become a highway of hate or a highway of harmony rests in our hands.