Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Credits: REUTERS/CHRIS W
Don't like that? Too bad.
Nigger. Faggot. Paki. Chink.
Don't like those, either? Again, too bad.
As of last week, Stephen Harper's Conservative government made it a lot easier for you to be called any of those things - or any number of other racist, hateful epithets - when they killed a key part of the Canadian Human Rights Act. That part, Section 13, prohibited the communication of hate via the telephone or the Internet.
The section came into being in the '70s because some neo-Nazi groups were using hate lines to communicate some pretty awful stuff.
More than a decade later, the Supreme Court told a litigious white supremacist the section was constitutional and a reasonable limit on his free speech rights. A decade after that, with the haters spending a lot more time on the Internet than on telephones, Parliament decided to expand the section to cover online attacks.
Then, just this week, a nobody Conservative MP was successful in getting Section 13 killed, making use of the Harper regime's favoured sleight-of-hand, a private member's bill. Section 13 was dead.
Lots of conservatives are delighted by this. That may be because most of them, I suspect, have never been on the receiving end of a web attack calling them a "nigger" or a "faggot."
I think the Harper folks have made a big mistake, and for lots of reasons. One, Harper had no mandate to do this. It never came up in the election.
That's because, two, his minority governments had always defended Section 13. In fact, his justice minister, Rob Nicholson, regularly ordered his lawyers to intervene in cases to defend the section. But that's not all. Problem three is a big one: Now that Section 13 is gone, the only tool we have to deal with hate propaganda online is the Criminal Code.
Online hate's not going away.
So, we are now going to see a dramatic increase in the number of hate expression cases involving the Criminal Code. The Human Rights Act, which is non-criminal, is a much better route than the Code.
Do you want to see people going to jail for every case of online hate? Me neither. It's unnecessary, it's expensive and it is going to whip up more conflict, not less.
What I favour is citizen-based advocacy, with no human rights commissions or Criminal Code provisions being necessary at all. Make it easier for identifiable groups to sue for defamation; that is the best way for a society to express itself.
When that was done in Oregon in the 1990s with the White Aryan Resistance, it put them out of business. They have never recovered. That is always the way to go: Citizen-based advocacy. Being condemned by a peer is always more effective than being pursued by a bureaucrat or a judge. But the Harper regime hasn't done that.
Let me conclude this way. It makes the point better than a pedantic academic treatise ever could.
Close your eyes and imagine for a moment you are a Jew, and your upset kids announce they've received e-mails covered in swastikas and "DEATH TO THE JEWS." Or imagine you're a person of colour, and you turn on your work computer and your e-mail inbox is full of KKK propaganda. Or, imagine you are a gay kid - living in the closet and living in fear - and you open your Facebook page, and someone has written "GOD HATES FAGS" all over it.
It's just words, some say; it's just some symbols. Big deal. No one has hit you, no one has beaten you up.
But, to me, some words and some symbols should never, ever be used with impunity.
No useful "idea" is conveyed by calling someone a kike, or nigger, or faggot, or paki or chink. In Canada, online, it has now become a lot easier to do.