On June 26, the Senate passed C-304, a private member’s bill that repeals Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 13 prohibited speech that was “likely to expose” identifiable groups to hatred or contempt and it was often used to punish conservatives for holding politically incorrect views on homosexuality or Islam. In recent years, complaints have been filed against Fr. Alphonse de Valk of Catholic Insight for his criticism of homosexual activists and author Mark Steyn for his criticism of radical Islam.
C-304, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (protecting freedom), was first introduced in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Brian Storseth (Westlock- St. Paul) in 2011. It will move genuine hate crimes to criminal court rather than have them heard by what critics of have called the kangaroo courts of the CHRC. Storseth said he introduced the bill to safeguard freedom of expression, saying that a Canadian Human Rights Commission report and even the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that Section 13 conflicts with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee of freedom of speech.
Senator James Cowan, the Liberal leader in the Senate, criticized not only the bill but its supporters: “This is not a bill in defence of free speech. This is a bill in defence of hate speech.”
Brian Lilley of Sun News said the “likely to expose” standard “meant you didn’t even have to actually expose anyone to these feelings through your posting, just that whatever you said, wrote or sang in an Internet posting could theoretically expose a protected group to hatred or contempt.” Critics such as freedom activist and Sun News personality Ezra Levant said Section 13 was effectively a thought crime provision. Levant told LifeSiteNews, Section 13 was an “Orwellian law that … undermines our real rights – like freedom of expression and freedom of religion – and promotes counterfeit rights, like the right not to be offended.”
More problematic, according to critics, was the presumption that those brought before the CHRC were not presumed innocent, as defendants are in criminal courts, but rather had to prove their innocence. Former Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren famously said the human rights complaint process was punishment itself.
The Senate passed C-304 by a 49-32 vote with three abstentions. Three Tories joined the Liberals to oppose the bill: Pierre Claude Nolin, Nancy Ruth, and Hugh Segal. Several Conservative senators said they had cast their votes in honor of the late Senator Doug Finley, the upper chamber’s leading critic of Section 13, who passed away in May.
C-304 received Royal Assent on the same day it was passed by the Senate, but will not take effect for a full year. While no new cases will be heard, complaints currently before the Canadian Human Rights Commission will still be adjudicated.
The National Post editorialized that getting rid of Section 13 was a victory for freedom of speech but that the battle now needed to move to the provinces because the federal law applied to the internet and telephone messages, whereas provincial human rights statutes affect print publications.