Source: X

Elon Musk sounded off against the Liberal government’s proposed Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act, after learning about the retroactive punishments which could applied to Canadians found guilty of hate speech online.

“A terrible attack on the rights of Canadians to speak freely!” Musk said on X.

“That sounds insane if accurate!” he said in response to a post which stated that the bill would allow charges to be laid retroactively against individuals who committed “hate speech,” even if the offence occurred before the law existed.

The post quotes Dr. Muriel Blaive, who called the “dystopian” bill “mad.”

“It is retroactive, which goes against all our Western legal tradition, according to which you can be punished only if you infringed a law that was valid at the time when you committed a crime,” Blaive said.

The proposed law states an individual will be liable to a human rights code violation “so long as the hate speech remains public and the person can remove or block access to it.”

If passed, social media posts from 15 years ago which are retroactively deemed “hate speech” could, under this law, become subject to a complaint.

The bill defines hate speech as “the content of a communication that expresses detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

Hatred is defined in the bill as “the emotion that involves detestation or vilification, and that is stronger than disdain or dislike.”

According to the Canadian Human Rights Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination one could not communicate “hatred” towards include “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”

“Hatred involves vilification and detestation of identifiable groups, implying that individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect, and subjected to ill-treatment based on their group affiliation,” the Supreme Court of Canada said.

In a response to Musk’s original comment, Jordan Peterson also chimed in.

“It’s much much worse than you have been informed: plans to shackle Canadians electronically if accusers fear a “hate crime” might (might) be committed,” Peterson said. “It’s the most Orwellian piece of legislation ever promoted in the West.”

Peterson is referring to a section of the bill which would allow Canadians to report people if they have “reasonable grounds to fear that another person will commit a hate propaganda or hate crime offence.”

The bill would provide costs on Canadians who abuse the reporting process to discourage parties from bringing forward “frivolous and bad faith complaints.”

With the permission of the provincial Attorney General and review from a provincial court finding “reasonable grounds” to believe a hate crime “will be committed,” the judge can order any reasonable conditions to “secure the good conduct of the defendant.”

The courts can order the individual found likely to commit a hate crime to be placed under house arrest, wear an electronic monitoring device, abstain from non-prescribed drugs and alcohol, and be banned from having weapons.

To ensure compliance in abstaining from drugs and alcohol, courts can order bodily fluid samples from the defendant.

These limits can be ordered against the defendant for 12 months or, if they’ve previously been convicted of a hate crime, up to two years.

The accused can also have limits to whom they directly and indirectly communicate with.

Laws that assign conditions without requiring conviction of a crime have been in place for decades in Canada, though currently, it’s only applicable for violent or sexual crimes.

Liberal Justice Minister Arif Virani said there will be a high level of qualifications before speech can be defined as an expression of detestation and vilification under this bill. He said awful but lawful speech will continue to be protected.

“We’re not talking about off-colour humour or things that are frankly offensive,” Virani said.

Critics of Bill C-63, such as Peterson and Musk, are concerned that applying pre-crime punishments to free speech online will chill speech and attack Canadians’ right to free expression online.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct a conflation of two separate parts of the bill with regard to the Canadian Human Rights Act provisions and the Criminal Code provisions.