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Ottawa wants to prevent its law against online hatred from leading to an avalanche of complaints

Photo: Spencer Colby The Canadian Press Federal Justice Minister Arif Virani during a press scrum in Ottawa on June 11

Émilie Bergeron – The Canadian Press in Ottawa

Published yesterday at 8:42 a.m.

  • Canada

Federal Justice Minister Arif Virani believes that safeguards in his bill aimed at countering online hatred will prevent the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) from being overwhelmed by a mountain of complaints from citizens who will not agree on what constitutes hateful content.

The bill, Bill C-63, would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to define the publication of hate speech as discrimination. If the bill passes in its current form, people who feel they have been the victims of online hate will have to file a complaint with the CHRC in the hopes that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will rule in their favour.

The sections of C-63 on this subject revisit a legislative provision that was removed by the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper.

“What we heard is that, at the time, when it existed, […] they said that, yes, there were a lot of complaints and it was difficult to manage all the complaints,” Minister Virani said of the CHRC, during a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

He assured that Justin Trudeau's government has adjusted the situation with its bill. “We listened to that and implemented improvements,” he maintained.

Among the adjustments he listed, Mr. Virani affirmed that the definition of hateful content enshrined in C-63 is “completely clear” and “linked to case law”, mentioning that it has been used by the Supreme Court since 2013.

The bill establishes that “hate-promoting content” is content that “expresses hatred toward or defamation of an individual or group of individuals and which, taking into account the context in which it is communicated, is likely to foment the detestation or defamation of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of such a prohibited ground of discrimination”, we can read .

It is specified that content cannot be considered hateful “for the sole reason that it expresses disdain or aversion or that it discredits, humiliates, harms or offends”.

Since tabling C-63 at the end of February, the Liberals have faced a wave of criticism from many people who fear that their freedom of expression will be limited. The famous writer Margaret Atwood had relayed such fears on the social network eliminated what was formerly section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

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Virani multiplies the exits

Convinced that his overhaul of the old legislative provisions does not infringe on the freedom of expression, Mr. Virani has been making numerous outings since the end of February to emphasize what the bill, in his opinion, does not contain. This could suggest that he spends less time emphasizing what C-63 includes.

“It was necessary, for me, to explain […] on several occasions what we are not doing just to emphasize that it is a fairly measured approach, quite appropriate, quite linked to our own rights here in Canada and our protections which are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”, he summarized during the telephone interview.

The minister added that the chosen definition “n 'is not mine, that of Justin Trudeau or of our Liberal cabinet', repeating that it comes from the highest court in the country.

Mr. Virani maintains that the CHRC will be able to “summarily dismiss” complaints “from the beginning of the process if the subject of the complaint does not touch the definition of hatred.”

The minister also pointed out a provision giving the commission the latitude to dismiss a complaint because the report is deemed “futile, vexatious or tainted in bad faith”.

In addition, costs may be demanded “against a person who abused the commission process,” noted the minister.

Mr. Virani said he was receptive to any request for additional resources that the CHRC could make.

The Liberals have been promising to legislate against harmful content online since the federal election campaign of 2019.

Bill C-63 has, since its tabling, barely progressed through its study by parliamentarians. Mr. Virani blames the Conservatives, whom he accuses of blocking the progress of the legislative study.

On this subject, a spokesperson for the Conservative leader declared last week that the agreement the Liberals have with the New Democrats allows them to prioritize or thwart any legislation as they want, “contrary to their whining.”

NDP House Leader Peter Julian believes that any delay is due to Justin Trudeau.

The Bloc Québécois has requested in vain that the bill be split so that other sections of the legislative proposal aimed at protecting minors from online sexual exploitation can be adopted quickly since, according to the political party, these elements are a consensus, unlike those relating to hateful publications.

With information from Stephanie Taylor

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116