Is sunlight the best disinfectant to combat bigotry and ignorance? Perhaps not, according to Canada’s Liberal Party. A new controversial policy is coming north of the border, surrounding legislation that aims to clamp down on hate speech by imposing an enormous fine for culprits and introducing pre-crime provisions to shield victims. Supporters aver that the federal government’s regulatory push is necessary to enable and strengthen free speech. Opponents believe this is further encroachment of the type of state control that is found in authoritarian and tyrannical countries. Is free speech under threat in Canada?
Hate Speech Fines and Pre-Crimes
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government recently unveiled a proposal to make online or in-person hate speech a crime, with a fine of up to $16,000 if it targets a specific individual. Bill C-36 defines hate speech as “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.”
Policymakers are putting forward recommended amendments that would ensure it is easier for people to submit complaints against individuals who publish on the web (social media and blogs) and website operators. The legislation excludes social media platform providers – for now.
The bill also consists of a pre-crime provision should the complainant fear that another person will commit “an offence motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other similar factor.”
“The actions we are taking today will help protect the vulnerable, empower those who are victimized and hold individuals to account for the hatred they spread online,” Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement.
Critics assert that the public policy endeavor would diminish free speech, arguing that people could make fraudulent complaints and others might be concerned about expressing themselves online. In other words, Canadians would self-censor out of concern they would be fined. However, proponents insist that this measure would enhance free speech because women, people of color, and LGBTQQIP2SAA folks would no longer face a barrage of abuse and could communicate without fear of vitriol. Others have been dismissive of the idea that Ottawa is eroding Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms, adding that regulation of hate speech is necessary to form a more compassionate society.
Ottawa noted that it would initiate public consultation during the summer months to gather input about hate speech, how to make online operators more accountable, and ensure platforms are safe places to communicate.
Political analysts believe that it is unlikely the bill will be approved anytime soon since the parliamentary session is over, plus, there are rumblings that Trudeau will trigger an early election. Observers of Canadian politics postulate that it was not an accident the legislation was submitted late. University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist told the National Post that tabling the bill was possibly “a signal [of] what the government intends to do if re-elected.” Is there an appetite for these actions among the electorate? Perhaps the country will find out in the fall.
Will Justin Trudeau Transform Canada?
Despite his personal scandals and the grits’ myriad of struggles, Trudeau has enough support to secure another minority or majority government with an approval rating of 45%, according to the Angus Reid poll tracker. In the Great White North, any federal political party only needs about a third of the voting public’s approval to gain or regain power. By the time he leaves office, will Trudeau have permanently altered the fabric of Canada?
The Liberals have employed a broad array of policies, from economic to social, that will install long-term changes for the country, whether on welfare spending or limiting speech. Without any significant challengers – the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole keeps falling behind in the polls and the New Democrats’ Jagmeet Singh is barely polling double digits – this is Trudeau’s Canada for as long as he wishes. And the Dominion might make an even harder left turn in the years to come.