Friday, May 27, 2011

Time for the Tories to put “free” back into free speech in Canada

Is there any appetite in Ottawa to do something about the state of human rights legislation vis-à-vis freedom of expression and, in particular, Section 13 (1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA)? It doesn’t seem like there is. And this despite delegates of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) voting unanimously at the 2008 policy convention at Winnipeg to scrap Section 13 (1).

Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act empowers the Commission to deal with complaints regarding the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet:

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate 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 person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

If memory serves, the federal minister of justice at the time and currently, Rob Nicholson, Member of Parliament for Niagara Falls voted in favour of the 2008 CPC motion that dealt with Section 13 (1). That motion read:

“The Conservative Party supports legislation to remove authority from the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal to regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints related to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.”

So what’s happened since then? Not much. A private member’s bill or two that might have helped was left to languish without a vote and that’s about it. So I believe it’s fair to ask whether action on this file is contemplated by the majority government of Stephen Harper.

Human rights are one of the sacred cows in Canada, and so they should be. But when quasi-judicial bodies overreach in their zeal to enforce legislation to the point of actually doing harm to freedom of expression—perhaps the most fundamental human right of all—it is time for any conservative-minded government to step in.

Even with a majority government, legislators dare not make changes too far outside the comfort zone of the average Canadian, so I don’t expect human rights tribunals and related commissions to be scrapped altogether. Nor do I expect the Tories will even scrap Section 13 (1), though I believe they should. But I do hope they will make changes to minimize the excesses we have observed in the past several years, many details of which you can read about at and

It’ll be a tricky proposition. The very mention of reining in the CHRC and its tribunal or modifying hate speech-related legislation will bring howls of protest from various religious and minority groups, and from mainly left-leaning Canadians from coast to coast to coast. But surely, with the abundant talent in the Conservative caucus, a case can be made that change is necessary and will be beneficial to Canadians at large, including Muslims, Jews and those from the Gay and Lesbian communities.

Hope springs eternal, but I can’t wait an eternity for common justice. Can you?


© Russell G. Campbell, 2011.
All rights reserved.
The views I express on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or positions of political parties, institutions or organizations with which I am associated.


  1. I agree and suggest that this is one of a few issues that a continued lack of action by the CPC will spell an end to their chance to get reelected. Up until now there was always the excuse of being a minority government, but that excuse no longer holds water.


    The CPC is about to make the problem worse. Bill C51, the omnibus crime bill, now criminalizes web sites if they have links to "hateful sites". In other words, if I leave a link in one of my comments to a hateful site, YOU could be in trouble.

    See clause 5 of the above link.

    Not only that, the police will now be able to get your personal information from your ISP or web site owner without a warrant

    It's all bad. And it's all CPC.