Protecting Canadians from Hate Speech
While section 13 was deficient in safeguarding a proper balance between freedom of speech and protection from hate, the current status quo is also lacking in balance.

Key Points

  • In June 2013, Private Member’s Bill C-304 became law, eliminating section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which protected the most vulnerable members of society from hate speech.
  • Section 13 was deficient in safeguarding a proper balance between freedom of speech and protection from hate, however the current status quo is also lacking in balance.
  • The federal government should either enact legislation to replace the former section 13 with a new provision that strikes an appropriate balance, or determine uniform guidelines and training programs with its provincial counterparts to advance education about the dangers of hate propaganda and ensure more active use of the Criminal Code hate speech provisions.
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Private Member’s Bill C-304 became law in June 2013, eliminating section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 13 was created as a shield to protect the most vulnerable members of society from hate speech. It provided an effective tool, particularly in the fight against antisemitism and Holocaust denial. Unfortunately, section 13 was used increasingly to stifle valid criticism and chill legitimate expression, and it became a divisive issue. After a series of town hall meetings to elicit feedback, CIJA called for hate speech to be addressed either through a more robustly applied Criminal Code or through a substantially reformed Human Rights Act, addressing section 13’s widely recognized deficiencies.

In his 2008 report to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, law professor Richard Moon noted a lack of prosecution of hate speech under the Criminal Code “not because the attorney general decided that the case was weak but because s/he did not regard hate speech as a significant problem.” With the repeal of section 13, this deficiency must be corrected. CIJA reached out to the RCMP and federal, provincial, and territorial justice ministers with specific recommendations to ensure a more active application of Criminal Code hate speech provisions, including enhanced public and police education on hate speech issues. To date, our recommendations have not been adopted, leaving a gap in Canada’s hate speech protections.

The federal government could make a meaningful contribution to resolving this issue by enacting legislation to replace the former section 13 with a new provision that strikes an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and protection from hate. Alternatively, the government could convene a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers to determine uniform guide- lines and training programs to ensure more active use of the Criminal Code hate speech provisions, coupled with a national education campaign about the dangers of hate propaganda.

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