Two constitutional rights groups have raised the alarm bells over the Liberal government’s recently unveiled “online hate speech” bill, Bill C-36.

Both the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) and the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) have condemned the bill as dangerous and infringing on Canadians’ rights. 

“Bill C-36 is not subtle legislation: it is a blatant attack on freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, as well as other Charter provisions,” said JCCF Litigation Director Jay Cameron told True North.

According to Cameron, the law’s “anticipatory of hate provision” in section 810.012 is particularly concerning from a legal perspective. The section, which amends the Canadian Human Rights Act, would allow anyone who has fear that a “hate propaganda offence or hate crime” will be committed to bring charges against another person.

“Not only is ‘hate’ not clearly defined in Bill C-36, but it allows a person to be punished and even incarcerated because of something someone imagines that they might say. This is an attack on the presumption of innocence, and is entirely unconstitutional, not to mention frighteningly despotic and totalitarian,” said Cameron. 

The Liberals have been promising a bill to address so-called “online hate” since before the 2019 election. On June 23, Liberal Justice Minister David Lametti tabled Bill C-36 with only hours left before the House of Commons’ summer recess. It is expected that the Liberals will re-introduce the legislation when parliament returns in the fall.

True North also reached out to other civil liberties organizations including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) for comment on Bill C-36.

CAJ president Brent Jolly noted the technical aspects of the bill have not yet been released, but said his organization would “monitor” the bill’s developments.

“Like just about any proposed legislation dealing with speech, if the law is written badly it could impinge on the freedom of the press,” Jolly said. “We just don’t know enough at this very moment to come to a rushed position. So, we will continue to monitor the legislation and speak up in the event that it is necessary.“

The CJFE and CCLA did not respond to a request for comment, however the CCLA’s Cara Zwibel expressed concerns in an interview with the National Post.

“I think we will probably see people making complaints that probably shouldn’t go forward and there may be a chilling effect on people who were concerned about expressing themselves and whether they’ll cross some sort of line,” Zwibel told the National Post.

In a recent statement on the legislation the CCF, also slammed Bill C-36 for giving “unelected tribunal bureaucrats even greater control” over free speech.  

“It essentially proposes to put bureaucrats in charge of parsing and policing speech on the internet,” wrote CCF Executive Director Joanna Baron in a recent op-ed

Those found guilty of breaking the proposed law could face up to $50,000 in fines, probation, and in the worst case scenario even imprisonment for uttering statements perceived as “hateful.” 

As noted by both the JCCF and the CCF, Canada already has hate speech laws in place to prosecute and charge people found to have said something criminally hateful. 

“The truth is that Bill C-36 is about preventing disagreement with woke orthodoxies. Imagine being censored by Twitter, for example, for saying that men do not have uteruses, or something similar, and then getting a $50,000 fine from the Trudeau government, being put on 12 months probation where your expression is scrutinized for conformity to government orthodoxies, and if you refuse, being sent to jail,” Cameron told True North. 

Other organizations including the People’s Party of Canada have also come out against Bill C-36.