Passing a law against “hate” is a popular move, but one that seriously threatens free expression because people cannot agree among themselves on what constitutes hate.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is now looking at changing federal laws to stem “the propagation of hateful acts and the enticement of hate such as racism, sexism, antisemitism, islamophobia, or homophobia, through online platforms.”
Provincially, Ontario’s Bill 84 would prohibit hate-promoting demonstrations at Queen’s Park. The proposed provincial law is short and simple: “No demonstration, rally or other activity that, in the opinion of the Speaker, is likely to promote hatred against any identifiable group shall be permitted on legislative precinct grounds.”
Ontario’s Bill 84, along with potential federal efforts to punish online “hate,” are dangerous for free expression. When the Criminal Code already prohibits the wilful promotion of hatred, any additional laws have the effect of silencing vigorous debate and other peaceful, non-violent disagreement. This is especially true in an era when the word “hate” is used ever more casually, and ever more frequently, as a blunt political weapon to silence one’s opponents.
For example, at McMaster University, Rukiye Turdush was recently accused of promoting hatred when he denounced the Chinese government genocide against the Uyghur people. Turdush claims that China has persecuted and detained hundreds of thousands of Uyghur Muslims in “re-education camps” in western China. A coalition of Chinese student groups claimed Turdush promoted “hatred” against China. They reported on the presentation to the Chinese consulate in Toronto, and asked McMaster University to ensure that the “dignity of Chinese students is not infringed.”
Trans activist Morgane Oger has denounced as “hate speech” a sign carried by a woman in the Vancouver Women’s March stating “Transwomen are men.” Oger wanted the sign-holder to be identified, located and prosecuted under B.C.’s human rights laws. Oger also demonstrated against a public talk given by prominent Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy, comparing the event to a “holocaust denial party” because feminists support the rights of only biological women, not transwomen. Clearly, Oger and others see disagreement with trans ideology as “hate.”
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren has called all of Fox News “hate.”
The federal justice and human rights committee also identifies “Islamophobia” and “homophobia” as problems, alongside “hate.” Do the MPs on the committee understand that a phobia is a strong, irrational fear of something that poses no real danger? Accusations of “Islamophobia” and “homophobia” are used routinely to silence critics of radical Islamists, and critics of an anti-freedom political agenda pushed by some LGBTQ activists. Like the accusation of “hate,” the “phobia” accusation makes it unnecessary to respond to your opponent’s arguments. When your opponent is “mentally ill,” she or he is just not worth listening to.
Federal and provincial politicians would do well to remember that Canada’s Criminal Code already prohibits the wilful promotion of hatred, while also providing bona fide defences to an accused person, including the defences of truth and religious opinion.
If passed into law, Bill 84 would likely result in banning social conservatives from rallying at the legislature to oppose what their children are being taught in school about sexuality, gender, and marriage. Under Bill 84, progressive activists will try to persuade the Speaker that such demonstrations are “likely to promote hatred” against LGBTQ individuals. There is no clear, objective standard of what is “hate” on which people of good will can agree. Without such a standard, the Speaker’s decision as to what speech is or is not allowed will necessarily be a political decision. Groups that are politically well-organized will succeed in persuading the Speaker to silence their opponents. Ontarians who cherish the free society should contact their MPP as soon as possible and urge her or him to vote against Bill 84.
Hate, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Of course we should draw a line between permissible and impermissible speech. In a free country, the state should ban the direct promotion of violence, genocide, and similar criminal conduct. But the state should not be in the business of managing social disagreements, or of shutting down debate on issues that are difficult or uncomfortable. Banning “hate,” “homophobia,” and “Islamophobia” fall far short of the clear and objective standard that citizens deserve.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca). On May 16, 2019, Justice Centre lawyer Jay Cameron testified in regard to “online hate” before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.