Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address the very timely topic of Motion No. 384 today, that the House move with speed to adopt legislative measures aimed at stopping the spread of hate propaganda via the electronic information highway while preserving the legitimate use of freedom of speech and expression. If legislation is passed on this issue the government will inherit a truly enormous task.
I stand in support of this motion because we must always be fighting against wrong wherever we find it. Due to the increasing accessibility of illegal material directed especially at our young people we must struggle even harder to protect impressionable minds from feeding and growing on a diet of hatred, ignorance and fear.
I have a person in my constituency who has received quite a bit of publicity lately. This man is a young, white supremacist connected with militant American groups and, as the media loves to do, he was featured on television a few weeks ago. He said that he hates the government with a perfect hatred.
While I may have my own problems with the government, it certainly does not deserve hatred. The very fact that this fellow was allowed to say what he said on national television without being thrown in jail shows that he is obviously wrong in his beliefs.
In a great many other countries he would be more justified in making such venomous diatribes. In Canada it is easy to grab the spotlight and heap abuse on our system even while standing within the shadow of a benevolent government. I would be interested to know if he not only derives his freedom, but also gets his living from the very government that he says he despises.
I was reminded of this outrageous philosophy at our local V-E Day remembrance day services I attended last weekend. Together we remembered the millions of young soldiers who dashed all their hopes and dreams against Hitler's mightiest armies, the man who attempted to put the whole world under his jackboot.
Hitler did not care about the Canadians, the Europeans, the Americans, the countless Asians who died. He did not even care about his own people. He cared about power. He used young, impressionable, dissatisfied men, like the man from my constituency, to get it for him. Many of them died along with their leader in the second world war.
It is an incredible irony that the very system that tens of millions of people fought to the death to preserve is now being used to shelter someone like this, who promotes Hitler's philosophy. It stands as yet another proof of the incredible strength and essential goodness of our political system. While we must
preserve this freedom, we must also preserve the stability of the system. Otherwise all those soldiers would have died in vain.
As the human body tolerates all sorts of germs, it also struggles against infections. Our society is like an organism that plays host to all sorts of philosophies but it, too, has the right to guard against those which are most destructive.
Hate literature and hate propaganda on the Internet are like pollution washing up on a seashore. Although we may never get rid of all the pollution, we must always keep cleaning the sand on our portion of the beach or else eventually we will be buried in the pollution. More and more hate literature is washing up on our personal shores, in our homes and businesses each and every day. We must actively battle it or risk having impressionable people won over by it.
Those who would claim an untrammelled right of freedom to use the Internet for any purpose stand on shifting ground. They would never claim that right in other areas. For instance, no one acknowledges the right of bank robbers to use our system of roads with complete freedom. Every time bank robbers use our highways to get away, the police do their utmost to stop this abuse of freedom. It should be the same when one travels the information highway.
To use another analogy, no one would claim that the government has no right to regulate the use of poisons in the marketplace, to pass laws to make sure that the poisons do not sit on a shelf alongside the food that we must purchase. Likewise, there are poisonous thoughts that should never sit on the shelf beside harmless chat groups and information libraries on the Internet.
There is a difference between freedom and licence. Freedom is simply the right to do whatever is good but licence is the abuse of that right in order to harm others. In the case of the Internet, the definition of harm becomes all important.
One of the hardest things is to define an intellectual crime where victims do not suffer physical or monetary loss. Should all white supremacist material be thought of at hate literature? Is pornography hate literature? Are religious messages that decry the actions of a person or a group based on a legitimate sense of moral offence hate literature? How can one determine the degree of hatred? Is just a little bit of hatred okay? It is very difficult to define a hate crime.
The next problem we encounter is very nearly insurmountable. That is the matter of enforcement. The member for Winnipeg North is perhaps suggesting the most difficult of all possible tasks, an act of global regulation.
Internet messages are nearly anonymous. There are trillions of possible hiding places in the Internet. The sources of hate literature are limitless and the criminals can be located anywhere in the world. If one is found and prosecuted within Canadian borders, 1,000 can take his place from any other country.
Obviously any regulation of the Internet would require international co-operation and it could only hope to drive the worst offenders underground. I note with satisfaction the Liberal House leader was reported on March 28 to have spoken favourably about an international agreement to stop the flow of this material into Canada. That would be necessary.
We want to avoid a vast bureaucracy of Internet police hired to listen to private conversations. If a police force was able to listen to all private telephone conversations, we would think it was a terrible abuse of human rights. I would certainly think so as well. All kinds of offensive things are communicated every day in person or over the telephone lines. People have a right to their privacy even when they say bad or ridiculous things.
However, the difference between personal communication and the Internet is that personal communications are inaccessible to all but the communicating parties. Through news groups the Internet makes essentially private conversations and communications available to anyone. That makes the Internet a thing of beauty and a beast at the same time.
A partial answer is in international agreements but perhaps the most effective answer lies in the actions of the people of goodwill who might act as volunteer watchdogs on the Internet. Millions of people read each other's thoughts each day and comment on them. Thousands of users can get together and electronically sanction someone who abuses the information highway.
This volunteer policing effort holds real promise for cleaning up the Internet, but once again that careful balance between free speech and responsible speech must be preserved, providing room for legitimate disagreements. That is why I think the most effective action the government could take is not legislative.
Government could get the best bang for its buck by supporting the development of a set of Internet conventions or broadly based rules. Call them operating rules, call them a public code of conduct or electronic ethics. These guiding principles would suggest to users when they should report to police, when they should simply reproach the sender or when they should band together to sanction another user.
Most Internet users around the world are responsible people, despite the horror stories we read in the newspapers. If there are vastly more responsible people than irresponsible ones, then it should be simple to obtain their co-operation in stopping the spread of material that is illegal.
The government could sponsor a small advisory group to take leadership in this area, to draft these voluntary Internet conventions using the legal assistance that government can provide and have the group go global on the Internet with its proposals, not working necessarily from government to government but from user to user. Let users decide among themselves what should be allowed and what should not.
Winston Churchill said in a speech at Harvard University in 1943 that the empires of the future are empires of the mind. This has never been more true than in the case of the Internet. At the moment it is purely an intellectual kingdom, but thoughts are powerful. Ideas in cyberspace translate into real world action and an Internet kingdom without laws will one day generate lawless deeds.
If the government passes laws to prosecute the worst offenders and helps to develop conventions for voluntary action on the Internet, this intellectual kingdom will become one of peace and safety. We can hope for nothing better for us and for our children than to experience that peace.