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Source: | 05-15-01

Canadian Hate Crime Laws Go Too Far,
Say Critics
By Alison Appelbe
Canadian civil libertarians and lawyers seeking protection for certain ethnic and cultural
groups are at odds over the value of Canadas rigorous anti-hate laws as the Canadian
Human Rights Commission prepares to open a second case against a website accused
of promoting hatred.
On May 22, The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal begins hearings regarding Machiavelli
and Associates Emprize, Inc. on charges of discrimination based on sexual preference.
A website registered to the company,
the Citizens Research Instrument,
includes remarks and information some
consider offensive or derogatory about
But critics of Canadas approach to what
some consider hate speech worry that
it stifles free speech, which doesnt have
the same protections as in the United
Canadians put up with an insane
amount of crap that Americans might not, said David Sutherland, director of the British
Columbia Civil Liberties Association.
According to Sutherland, theres a growing use of federal and provincial legislation that
prohibits even the intent or likelihood of discrimination on the basis of race, religion,
sex, sexual orientation and other categories.
Many people say its because Canadians are nice, and we are. Were gentler and more
docile than Americans, said Sutherland, a Vancouver lawyer. But our concern is that
this is the slippery slope of censorship in which human rights are being suppressed.
Referring to a B.C. newspaper columnist who has faced legal challenges to articles
denying or downplaying the Holocaust, Sutherland added, If you dont like (columnist)
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Doug Collins, you dont have to read him. And if you want to listen to Howard Stern
tweaking his neighbors nipple, then go ahead.
A spokesman for the Toronto-based Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Alan Borovoy,
agreed with Sutherland, saying the Canadian Human Rights Acts Section 13, which is
the basis of attempts to eliminate so-called hate on the Internet, is too sweeping.
Its so wide that its capable of targeting legitimate discussion, Borovoy said, citing a
U.S. book that challenges conventional views on the Holocaust which he said would
likely be banned under Canadian law.
Borovoys association supports a position similar to the First Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution. However the differences between the U.S. and Canada are less a matter
of law than of attitude, he said. One is so much more open to free speech, Borovoy
Indeed, a lawyer who represented the Canadian Human Rights Commission during the
first tribunal hearing dealing with hate on the Internet a case involving alleged Neo-
Nazi Ernst Zundel said if Canada is limiting speech to suppress the expression of hate,
it is doing so with public support.
Canadians have decided that they dont want themselves or others exposed to this
stuff, said attorney Eddie Taylor. If its up on a lamp-post or on the Internet, it makes
no difference.
Victoria, B.C. lawyer Robert Goldschmid, author of the book Promoting Equality in the
Information Age: Dealing with Internet Hate, said that freedom-of-speech legislation is
applied differently in the U.S. and Canada because of historical circumstances, but
added the laws of the two nations are similar in intent.
Goldschmid, who has also practiced law in Detroit, said there are a number of
exceptions to free speech clawed out of the First Amendment that are similar to
Canadian laws.
Americans do the same thing we do, they make value judgments. But Americans lean
more towards prohibiting pornography and obscenity, while we tend to place more
value on the harm of hate speech. There are gaps between how we apply free speech
laws, but I think our values are more similar than people think, said Goldschmid.
According to Goldschmid, the application of the laws may change with circumstances.
Its not what the First Amendment or the Canadian Charter (of Rights and Freedoms)
says. Its the values of the political culture, and that can change at any time, said
Goldschmid, who cited an Illinois group hate law enacted in 1951 following race riots
in Chicago that has never been over-ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
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In his book, commissioned by the Canadian Jewish Congress, Goldschmid advocates an
international agreement that would limit the spread of group libel on the Internet. He
also believes there should be a prohibition on the mirroring of certain websites by
providers in other jurisdictions.
Goldschmid, like others, concedes that controlling the Internet is not possible: You
cant get rid of whats out there, but you can deter people.