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.