The Liberals plan to release a new bill targeting online hate speech before the House of Commons breaks for the Summer.
According to the National Post, Justice Minister David Lametti plans to table a bill that will “amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act and to make related amendments to another Act (hate propaganda, hate crimes and hate speech).”
It is not immediately clear if the legislation will include regulation of internet content or only cover types of hate speech which the government consulted on last year.
The proposal comes as the Liberals try to pass the controversial internet regulation bill, C-10, which has been attacked for limiting free speech online.
Speaking at the Banff World Media Festival, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault hinted at the forthcoming legislation, going so far as to admit the bill will be divisive.
“Now, this is going to be controversial. People think that C-10 was controversial. Wait till we table this legislation,” he said.
Lametti’s bill has the potential of reviving an extremely controversial former law — Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Section 13 was heavily criticized for going beyond hate speech, effectively prohibiting speech online that was perceived as offensive. At the time, the section was widely condemned by civil rights groups.
Section 13 was repealed in 2013 thanks to a private member bill from a Conservative MP, but Lametti’s parliamentary secretary, Arif Virani, confirmed that the Liberals are examining the section to see if any of it should be returned to.
True North fellow and free speech expert Lindsay Shepherd says government hate speech laws inevitably end up censoring legitimate free speech which some find offensive, adding that social media platforms already censor dissenting opinions.
“It all goes back to this: we don’t want the government defining online hate, because it will inevitably cast too wide of a net. We know that a Reddit forum for gender critical feminism was banned. A pro-life news site called LifeSiteNews had their YouTube channel banned. Rebel News was kicked off of PayPal,” she said.
“This shows us that if the views you’re expressing fall outside the liberal-progressive orthodoxy, you can and will be shut out — and with a return of section 13 or some other similar online hate speech law, Canadians who express non-politically correct opinions could potentially face fines or legal trouble.”
In 2019, Shepherd testified at the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on regulation of hate speech online.