moved that Bill C-304, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom), be read the third time and passed.
Madam Speaker, I am happy to be back in the House of Commons once again to debate my private member's bill, C-304, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom).
I would like to thank justice committee for its support, as well as the many witnesses who took time out of their busy schedules to discuss Bill C-304 and freedom of speech within committee. It is these honest and open dialogues which have moulded our great nation and will continue to advance our society into the future.
Moving a private member's bill through the House of Commons has been a tremendous experience, one that has led to many obvious ups and downs. However, it has been one that has garnered me the opportunity to work more closely with my fellow colleagues in both chambers. I would like to take this time to thank my colleagues for both their support and their constructive criticism.
It has also given me the opportunity to travel our great country from coast to coast to discuss this issue with Canadians. It is from them that I have really received the passion for freedom of speech within our country. I would like to thank Canadians for their support on this.
At a practical level, I would like to thank my staff member Amee Pundick for tremendous work on this bill. Most important, the pressures that moving a private member's bill through the House can create on one's schedule means that there is more pressure on the family. I would like to thank my parents, my son Eastin and my daughter Ayden for their patience and most important my wife Amel for her tremendous support. She truly is the rock of our family.
Freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of our great democracy, a cornerstone which is eroding away due to unnecessary censorship by an overzealous bureaucracy. Regulating speech is a dangerous idea and not compatible with the principles of a free society. As Thomas Jefferson said, “the only security of all is a free press”.
My private member's bill C-304 would help protect and enhance this fundamental freedom, because without freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly hold no value. Freedom of speech truly is the bedrock upon which all other freedoms are based.
Bill C-304 calls for the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act in order to ensure that freedom of speech is preserved and promoted through an open, transparent and democratic process, which is the Criminal Code of Canada.
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 section 2(b) of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states that every individual has the fundamental freedoms that are “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 section 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 this act. Professor Moon clearly stated, on page 31 of his report, “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.”
Professor Moon goes on to highlight a quote from the Cohen Committee, which states that “No civil statute can create a moral standard equivalent to that of criminal law”. This quote perfectly summarizes the unparalleled ability of the Criminal Code to properly address sensitive issues while maintaining a balanced approach.
It is also important to note that the conflict between section 13 and the charter was reaffirmed in 2009 by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal itself, which found section 13 to be unconstitutional.
Since Bill C-304 was first introduced in the House of Commons I have had opportunities to attend a number of conferences and annual meetings across Canada to discuss the content of the bill, the repealing of section 13 and the implications that it would have on our country.
Most people were astounded when they heard for the first time that our fundamental freedoms can be overruled by a quasi-judicial body that feels that something someone said was likely to have exposed another individual or group to hatred or contempt. That is right, the individual simply had to feel that it was likely to do this.
Canadians find it difficult to believe that such a loosely written and vague law has the power to undermine the fundamental rights that Canada so proudly bases its democracy upon, 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, the actual implications reach much further, chilling free speech and stifling the growth and development of our society. It is in this zone of ambiguity and the ripple effect that section 13 creates that we should all be concerned. Subsection 13(1) 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.
There is it right there: “any matter that is likely to expose a person”.
Subsection 13(2) goes on to extend this law to matters that are communicated by means of computer and the Internet. What this really means is that the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal only have to feel that one is “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 and intent is not a defence. One no longer has the right to due process, the right to a speedy trial or the right to an attorney. It is alarming that until recently the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal had a 100% conviction rate. This is not a sign of vindication; rather, it neglects to acknowledge that 90% of defendants fail to obtain legal advice because they simply cannot afford it, while at the same time the legal costs of the plaintiffs are fully covered. This is simply un-Canadian.
As a boy born and raised in northern Alberta, I have grown up obsessed with hockey. My son has followed in my footsteps. His favourite hockey player is Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I often compare this scenario to a hockey game. Placing well-paid human rights lawyers up against defendants who generally have little to no background in the legal field is like placing a recreational hockey team up against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins and being surprised when the professional team wins again and again and again. This approach simply makes no sense, as the tables are obviously tipped in favour of the professional team or, in this case, the human rights lawyers.
These are not the characteristics of an open and democratic society that promotes equality and fairness. These basic provisions of law are considered to be natural rights by Canadians and are provided to any other individual in any other court in Canada under the Criminal Code. This is a clear depiction of what happens when censorship and bureaucracy are allowed to run amok. This is one of the reasons I have introduced Bill C-304, protecting freedom, in 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 in operating behind closed doors.
By repealing section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights Act, we would give back to Canadians the right to be offended, and individuals will have the recourse to hate speech through the Criminal Code of Canada. The continued use of the Criminal Code to address hate messaging would ensure that all individuals are protected from threatening, discriminatory acts while preserving the fundamental right to freedom of expression. It would give back the right to fair, open and transparent trial and the right for people to face their accusers. It would make defences such as truth or intent allowable. It would even give back the right to recover costs should the claim be dismissed.
True hate speech is a serious crime and one that needs to be reviewed by a real court and investigated by real police officers. The Criminal Code has been tried and tested. It is ingrained with a system of checks and balances, a system to which society has entrusted its fundamental freedoms, a system society has seen as fit to enforce the rule of law in our great country. Justice is not served when it is hidden in the dark alleys of quasi-judicial bodies.
The solution here is not to take a band-aid approach and address the superficial inadequacies of section 13, as some have suggested. The fundamental deficiencies and broken structure would still be there if we did that. These issues cannot simply be fixed through amendments, as section 13 would still be imposed under the discretion of a subjective, 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 in which one form of hate speech would be deemed worse than another. This is simply not appropriate.
Hate speech is a very serious issue and must be dealt with appropriately, with police investigations and appropriate penalties. True hate speech, speech intended to incite hatred and subject persons of an identifiable group to harm, deserves more than a slap on the wrist and should be carefully examined under the Criminal Code, which already contains hate speech provisions and which is a far more appropriate fit.
Opponents of my private member's bill have voiced their concerns on multiple occasions regarding the burden of proof associated with the Criminal Code being too great and too cumbersome. I would like to take this opportunity to address this argument one more time.
The burden of proof under the Criminal Code is indeed more comprehensive; however, I would argue that due to the seriousness of these allegations, it is in fact far more appropriate to apply the standard of proof beyond any reasonable doubt than the standard of a balance of probabilities. What my opponents fail to recognize is that in the highly subjective system currently employed by section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the standard of proof only becomes a significant issue when facts are actually disputed. My question in return is this: should facts not need to be concrete prior to overruling a fundamental right protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, protected by our forefathers?
I believe the solution is to use the laws we already have and to provide authorities with the tools and support necessary. This step would ensure a successful transition in which true democracy and freedom of speech can thrive so that society can continue to grow and adapt peacefully in our country. It is through freedom of speech and expression that we change governments, not through riots and revolts. It is how we test societal norms and successfully develop our nation. It is through freedom of expression that we have shaped, and will continue to shape, our great country.
As I have stated before, this is an issue for all Canadians. Freedom of speech is equally important whether one is in the opposition or the government. This is not an issue of blue versus orange or red. This is not an issue of right versus left. This is an issue of freedom, transparency and balance for all Canadians.
With that, I would like to challenge all members 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 country, are willing to give up. It is time to take a stand to protect our fundamental freedoms and ensure that our children and future Canadians are not denied these basic rights through unnecessary censorship and bureaucracy.