One small step to restoring our democratic rights

The House of Commons passed Brian Storseth’s private member’s bill C-304 repealing Section 13 of the Canada Human Rights Act that proscribes so-called hate speech.

C-304, An Act to Amend the Human Rights Act, was introduced by Storseth last October and passed third reading June 6 on a 153-136 near party-line vote. All members of the opposition except one voted against Storseth’s bill while every member of the Conservative Party present in the House and Scott Simms (Lib., Bonavista-Gander-Grand Falls-Windsor) voted for it. It now heads to the Senate where it is expected to pass as Conservative senator Doug Finley shepherds the bill through the upper chamber.

Section 13 defines a discriminatory practice as “any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt” if the person or persons affected are “identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.” In 2008, a Canadian Human Rights Commission-sponsored report by constitutional law expert Richard Moon advised repeal of Section 13, but the CHRC ignored its own report. In 2009, a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in the case of Richard Warman and the CHRC vs. Marc Lemire that Section 13 was unconstitutional because it unjustifiably limited the Charter of Rights’ guarantee of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

After Storseth’s private member’s bill passed, Edmonton Sun columnist Lorner Gunter wrote: “What Storseth’s law does is take a big club out of the hands of the CHRC — a club it had used selectively to censor the Internet and punish people with views that disagreed with the commissioners’ own politically correct beliefs.”

Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry applauded the passing of Storseth’s bill. She told the Catholic Register that “human rights tribunals are not the appropriate forum for testing claims of hate speech.”

More than half of all Section 13 cases were launched by one person, Richard Warman and until recently there was nearly a 100 per cent conviction rate. It was not until the media started paying attention to the censorship of the human rights commission industry that the tide turned. Still, as Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren noted, the process is the punishment, so as long as complaints are made and those accused of making potentially offensive comments are forced to defend themselves, Section 13 had the ability to silence the expression of unpopular or politically incorrect views. Fr. Alphonse de Valk and Catholic Insight spent $40,000 defending themselves against charges that articles upholding Catholic teaching on homosexuality were tantamount to hate.
During the debate on Bill C-304 on Wednesday, Storseth said, “Mr. Speaker, tonight every member of the House has the opportunity to vote for freedom.” He added: “For far too long every Canadian’s fundamental right to freedom of expression has been needlessly suppressed by an overzealous bureaucracy armed with section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a vague and highly subjective law operating under the cloak of ambiguity.”

Storseth said, “While section 13 may have been implemented with well-meaning intentions, its implications reach much further, chilling free speech and stifling the growth and development of free expression in our society. It is time to take back our right to freedom of expression as the bedrock upon which all other freedoms are built and repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.”

Storseth said that serious hate speech that incites violence can be handled by “real police officers,” with “real lawyers and judges presiding over these cases, not a quasi-judicial body in a backroom doing things in the dark, which nobody ever gets to see.”