- Published on Thursday, 03 September 2009 01:09
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2390
From an article by John Ward, The Canadian Press
A ruling from a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal member says that section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act banning Internet hate messages is unconstitutional because it violates free speech protections in the Canadian Charter of Rights.
The Tribunal is not a court so cannot change the law but it threw out a case brought against Marc Lemire and refused to penalize him or order him to stop posting his messages.
Athanasios Hadjis ruled Wednesday that section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act violates Charter protections. The section originated in the 1960s as a tool against racist phone hotlines and was later extended to the Internet but has lately been criticized.
Blogger Ezra Levant, a journalist in Calgary, has long criticized the Human Rights commissions for their support of the Canadian Islamic Congress and was recently sued for defamation and libel for criticizing Muslims and their way of using the tribunal to muzzle criticism. Details here. He has also written a book on what he calls "abusive" human-rights bodies and expressed wonder at this latest decision.
Commenting on this ruling he said: "This is the first time in 32 years that anyone has been acquitted under the censorship provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act. That's amazing - and to have the law declared unconstitutional is even more of a breakthrough."
Hate accusations are filed with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. If it finds them valid, they are then taken before the tribunal, which can order people to stop posting material on the web or impose fines of up to $10,000.
Lemire was accused of posting anti-Semitic and anti-gay material on web sites in a complaint brought by Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman. Warman has become an Internet watchdog for such material and the main section 13 complainant before the tribunal.
He had asked for a cease-and-desist order against Lemire and a $7,500 fine. But Tribunal member Hadjis thought otherwise. Although he found that Lemire violated section 13 in at least one instance involving an anti-gay message, he declined to impose any penalty because he found the sections at issue unconstitutional.
"The restriction imposed by these provisions is not a reasonable limit within the meaning of section 1 of the Charter," Hadjis wrote. "Since a formal declaration of invalidity is not a remedy available to the tribunal, I will simply refuse to apply these provisions for the purposes of the complaint against Mr. Lemire and I will not issue any remedial order against him."
The section has been controversial, with some claiming it spreads too wide a net. The Supreme Court of Canada has said legal action should be reserved only for the most extreme forms of hate.
Levant said the ruling showed that the rights commission went after speech that was political, not hateful.
"The CHRC prosecuted Marc Lemire for criticizing welfare rates and high immigration - in a manner the tribunal acknowledges were not hateful. "So you've got an increasingly aggressive government agency, with new powers to issue massive fines, and it's being used as a political weapon. Of course it was struck down as unconstitutional."
The commission has itself backed away from section 13 and its penalties.
It came under fire earlier this year after several controversial cases arose, including one in which a Mark Steyn (photo left) book excerpt on a Macleans Magazine web site was accused of promoting hatred and contempt of Muslims. That case was tossed out, but it led some to demand that the commission be disbanded.
In a special report issued in June, the commission asked Parliament to change the law to eliminate the fines and provide a clear, legal definition of what constitutes prohibited hatred.
And I would ask, when does giving an opinion or pointing out unpleasant facts become hate? I support Ezra Levant's campaign to get these things defined and to stop the Muslim harrassment aimed at stifling free speech.