Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Celebrate with me! Hate speech law unconstitutional: rights tribunal

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that Section 13, Canada's much maligned human rights hate speech law, is an unconstitutional violation of the Charter right to free expression because of its penalty provisions.

Good work, Speechies! :D

The decision released this morning by Tribunal chair Athanasios Hadjis appears to strip the Canadian Human Rights Commission of its controversial legal mandate to pursue hate on the Internet, which it has strenuously defended against complaints of censorship.

It also marks the first major failure of Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, an anti-hate law that was conceived in the 1960s to target racist telephone hotlines, then expanded in 2001 to the include the entire Internet, and for the last decade used almost exclusively by one complainant, activist Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman.

Ha! Sucks to be you, Warman!

That decision, about neo-Nazi John Ross Taylor, upheld the law as a justifiable limit on free expression largely because of its supposedly remedial, non-punitive purpose. But Mr. Hadjis found that that, today, the pursuit of Section 13(1) cases "can no longer be considered exclusively remedial, preventative and conciliatory in nature." Rather, the law "has become more penal in nature."

And it was only just realized now, huh?

Mr. Hadjis' decision to reject the law as unconstitutional, in light of its penalty provisions, leaves a central area Canada's human rights in limbo, and kicks a political hot potato over to the government

With an election looming...

and the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which can appeal the ruling to Federal Court.

I'm anxious to see if they're going to appeal.

Mr. Warman's case was supported by the CHRC, and various advocacy groups joined the case as intervenors in support of Section 13.

Mr. Hadjis rejected Mr. Warman's complaints in all but one instance, an article called AIDS Secrets. He found that this posting contravened Section 13(1). But he also found the law itself -- with its threat of penalties such as an order to cease the discrimatory messages, or pay fines up to $10,000 -- violates Mr. Lemire's Charter right to freedom of expression, and therefore refused to make any order against him.

"Since a formal declaration of invalidity [of Section 13(1)] is not a remedy available to the Tribunal, I will simply refuse to apply these provisions for the purposes of the complaint against Mr. Lemire and I will not issue any remedial order against him," Mr. Hadjis wrote.

It's not over. We have to abolish that article. Because a future government might decide to re-activate it.