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Canada rights tribunal rules hate speech law violates free expression

[JURIST] The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal [official website] ruled [decision, PDF] Wednesday that Canada's Internet Hate Speech law unconstitutionally violates the right to free expression. The law, section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act [text], proscribed individuals or groups from:

communicat[ing] telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

The party contesting the legality of section 13, Marc Lemire, argued that section 13 violates sections 24(1), 52(1), 2(a), 2(b), and 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text], and sections 1(d), 1(f), and 2 of the Canadian Bill of Rights [text]. In rendering his decision, Tribunal Vice-Chairperson Athanasios Hadjis [official profile] ruled that section 13 of the Human Rights Act violated section 2(b), but not sections 2(a) or 7 of the Canadian Charter, nor any of the at issue sections of the Bill of Rights. While the Tribunal ruled that section 13 of the Human Rights Act is contrary to free speech protections in Canada, the Tribunal cannot declare the law invalid, and can only refuse to sanction Lemire for his actions - allegedly posting discriminatory material on Internet message boards.

The Tribunal's ruling is the third in the last 13 months that has strengthened free speech protections in Canada and weakened hate speech laws. In October 2008, the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal dismissed [JURIST report] a complaint alleging that the Canadian newspaper Maclean's incited hatred against Muslims. Earlier in 2008, another lawsuit against Maclean's was dismissed [JURIST report] by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. Both 2008 decisions arose from an article [text] in by Mark Steyn entitled "The future belongs to Islam".

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