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Insults, offensive remarks, and off-colour jokes won’t get Canadians in trouble with the Liberal government’s controversial online hate speech bill, according to Justice Minister Arif Virani. 

While speaking to the Hill Time’s podcast The Hot Room, Virani claimed that “awful but lawful” speech will continue to be protected by the Charter and have a place in the public domain. 

According to Virani, the way that Bill C-63, also known as the Online Harms Act, is written means complaints brought against Canadians that are frivolous and made in bad faith will be filtered out. What will remain are complaints that promote detestation and vilification, such as calls for the extermination of a group. 

“We’re not talking about off-colour humour or things that are frankly offensive. We’re talking about expressions of detestation and vilification and I know that’s fancy terminology but the basic idea is when you call for the extermination of a group, you’re hitting that high level,” said Virani.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will also have the ability to award costs against people abusing the process “for their own personal gain.” 

“That means things that arise to detestation and vilification are caught and things that are what I call ‘awful but lawful’ things that are hurtful, insulting, offensive are not caught. Those are protected by the Constitution, they remain in the public domain and will always remain in the public domain,” said Virani. 

Additionally, Virani explained that the Canadian Human Rights Commission won’t be the final arbiter on online hate complaints. Canadians found to have violated Bill C-63 will have the opportunity to demand a judicial review of the commission’s decision. 

“If they make a determination, those are already subject to judicial review, we are maintaining that, as a right, that they could have a judicial review and that will continue to be the case that the ultimate arbiter is a court,” said Virani. 

Bill C-63 also revises the maximum sentence for inciting genocide from five years to life imprisonment. When pressed by host Peter Mezereeuw about whether protest chants like “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” would be included in this definition, Virani said it ultimately lies with the courts and that criminal intent needs to be apparent. 

“I have the utmost confidence in the ability of our courts to make ultimate determinations about genocide and you’re right it is context specific, it’ll vary case by case. What the courts need to do is both have a sense that it meets the threshold of what constitutes advocating genocide, but also what’s called the criminal intent is there,” said Virani. 

Virani has also seen pro-Palestine protesters target his office accusing the minister of supporting genocide by refusing to denounce Israel. 

Not everybody is convinced, as civil liberties groups and prominent public figures have come out to oppose the bill. 

Soon after Bill C-63 was revealed last month, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association demanded significant amendments to the law to address concerns about free speech. 

“Our initial assessment reveals that the bill includes overbroad violations of expressive freedom, privacy, protest rights, and liberty. These must be rectified before the bill is passed into law,” said the group’s general counsel Mendelsohn Aviv.Canadian author Margaret Atwood also called the law “Orwellian” and compared it to draconian measures imposed by tyrannical rulers to quash dissent historically.