John Carpay: 

Bill C-63 (Online Harms Act) is the most serious threat to free speech in Canada in generations.

If passed into law by Parliament, Bill C-63 would give the Canadian Human Rights Commission new powers to prosecute and punish non-criminal speech if deemed to be “hateful” in the subjective opinion of federal bureaucrats. Canadians found guilty would be required to pay as much as $50,000 to the federal government, plus up to $20,000 to a complainant. Deeply offended busybodies would file thousands of complaints, including anonymous complaints, against their fellow citizens.

The Online Harms Act would create a Digital Safety Commission to enforce compliance with new censorship regulations. Using their new regulatory powers, federal bureaucrats will be able to control and censor every “social media service” in Canada, setting out what cannot be said, and what must be said. The Digital Safety Commission will not be required to follow basic rules of evidence. It may conduct secret hearings and has been granted an astonishing array of powers with limited oversight. Beware when politicians peddle “safety;” the Committee of Public Safety chopped off the heads of more than 16,000 Frenchmen during the Reign of Terror in 1793-94.

If passed, Bill C-63 will amend the Criminal Code to give new powers to judges to place Canadians under house arrest even if they have committed no crime. The judge can violate a citizen’s liberty based on a complaint from someone who fears that the accused person will promote genocide, hatred or antisemitism. A person can be sentenced up to two years in jail for failing to agree to house arrest and other restrictions on liberty.

For the existing Criminal Code offence of advocating for genocide, the Online Harms Act would raise the maximum penalty from five years in jail to life imprisonment. Compare that to the maximum prison sentence for sexually assaulting a child, which is 14 years in jail, not life.

The harms that Bill C-63 seeks to address are already Criminal Code offences. Parents can and should protect their kids by not allowing them unrestricted and unsupervised access to the internet.

Incredibly, some MPs want even more restrictions on free expression. For example, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has introduced private member’s Bill C-367 to repeal the religious defence that is available to an accused person when criminally charged with promoting hatred or antisemitism.

Section 319 of the Criminal Code prohibits the wilful and public promotion of hatred against a group that can be identified on the basis of race, colour, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental or physical disability.

However, Section 319(3) of the Criminal Code provides several defences. For example, the accused can be acquitted if he establishes that his statements were true, or if in good faith he expressed an opinion on a religious subject, or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text.

Removing the Section 319(3) religious defence opens the door to Canadians being criminally charged with the wilful promotion of hatred if they publicly proclaim or teach what the Torah, New Testament, Quran and other scriptures say about homosexual behaviour.

Believing that sex ought to take place only within marriage, between a husband (male) and wife (female), is not hateful. Publicly proclaiming that belief should not result in criminal charges. Yet removing the Section 319(3) defence would pave the way for criminal prosecutions against those who proclaim what their scriptures teach.

Some say that it’s silly to worry about religious texts being criminalized as illegal hate speech. Let’s remember the promise that was made – publicly and repeatedly – by LGBTQ advocates in the 1990s when “sexual orientation” was added to federal and provincial human rights legislation. Advocates claimed that this new addition would never be used to censor religious people who teach what their sacred texts say about homosexuality. This promise, whether made in good faith or not, was promptly broken. Publicly proclaiming what the Torah, New Testament and Quran say about sexuality is now border-line illegal in Canada, with citizens facing human rights prosecutions if they do not choose their words very carefully.

If passed into law by Parliament, Bill C-367 will remove the Section 319(3) religious defence. This, in turn, opens the door to characterizing certain sections of religious texts as illegal hate speech.

Canadians who care about our Charter freedoms of expression, conscience and religion should contact their Member of Parliament to say that both Bills C-63 and C-367 should be rejected.