Skip to main content
opinion

From stronger hate-crime laws to better oversight of the RCMP, Canadians support an array of measures to improve racial equality – and they don’t see inaction as an acceptable option

Thousands of people gather in Vancouver on May 31, 2020, for a peaceful demonstration against racism, injustice and police brutality.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail and CTV News.

The ugly truth is that the online world is both a valuable source of information and an enabler of hatred and racism. Do Canadians care?

A new national survey for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation sheds light on where Canadians stand today on the subject of online hatred. At the heart of the research findings is the view that a majority of Canadians (58 per cent), regardless of age, gender or region, believe that hateful and racist online content is a major problem in Canada, while only 11 per cent believe this is not a problem at all.

How big of a problem do you think hateful and racist online content and behaviour is in Canada?

NOT A

PROBLEM

MAJOR PROBLEM

AVERAGE

58%

25

11

6

UNSURE

How big of a problem do you think hateful and racist online content and behaviour is in Canada?

NOT A

PROBLEM

MAJOR PROBLEM

AVERAGE

58%

25

11

6

UNSURE

How big of a problem do you think hateful and racist online content and behaviour is in Canada?

NOT A PROBLEM

MAJOR PROBLEM

AVERAGE

58%

25

11

6

UNSURE

Action to address online hate is being taken by governments in some countries. Australia is initiating “anti-troll” legislation to make social-media platforms more responsible, and Germany is cracking down on online hate speech, threatening to fine companies as much as $73-million if they do not remove “obviously illegal” content within 72 hours.

Canadians are also ready for action when it comes to fighting hatred, racism and discrimination. Almost four in five respondents (79 per cent) support introducing legislation to combat serious forms of harmful online content. Faced with the trade-off between fighting hate speech and limiting free speech, people are more than twice as likely to worry about the impact of hate speech and racism (56 per cent) than about governments and social-media companies limiting the rights of citizens to express themselves and protecting the privacy of users (21 per cent).

Social-media organizations are in the sights of Canadians who think they need to be more pro-active and take on more responsibility for what is said on their platforms. About three in four Canadians (76 per cent) support making social-media platforms legally responsible for the removal of hateful and extremist content before it can do harm, and almost seven in 10 (68 per cent) support requiring social-media platforms to publicly provide data and information related to algorithms, content moderation and other information pertinent to preserving the safety of online spaces and preventing harm.

The twist is that the very same social-media platforms that enable racist content and violent action against racialized communities are also a weapon of transparency, capturing this undeniably unacceptable behaviour.

A Black Lives Matter mural is painted on a boarded up shop in Montreal in 2020.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The appetite for action is more than just the regulation of social-media platforms. Three in four Canadians (75 per cent) support (score of 7-10 out of 10) strengthening the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to more effectively combat online hate.

Research suggests that Canadians want concrete action offline as well. Canadians are four times more likely to support the development of a Black Canadians Justice Strategy to address anti-Black racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system (55 per cent) than oppose such a plan (12 per cent). Meanwhile, almost six in 10 (58 per cent) support the creation of an independent civilian oversight body of the RCMP.

Of note, having dedicated hate crime units in major cities is generally viewed positively. More than seven in 10 Canadians (72 per cent) support ensuring that all major cities have dedicated hate crime units within local police forces, with about one in 20 people opposing the creation of such units.

WHAT SOLUTIONS DO

CANADIANS SUPPORT?

Support

Neutral

Oppose

Unsure

Introducing legislation to combat serious forms

of harmful online content

3

79%

14

4

Making social media platforms legally responsible

for the removal of hateful and extremist content

before it can do harm

3

76%

15

6

Strengthening the Canadian Human Rights Act

and the Criminal Code to more effectively

combat online hate

75%

16

5

4

Ensuring that all major cities have dedicated hate

crime units within local police forces

72%

18

6

4

Requiring social media platforms to publicly

provide data and information related to

algorithms, content moderation, and other

information pertinent to preserving the safety

of online spaces and preventing harm

68%

19

6

7

Creating an independent civilian oversight body

of the RCMP

58%

26

8

8

Developing a Black Canadians Justice Strategy

to address anti-Black racism and discrimination

in the criminal justice system

55%

28

12

6

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

NANOS RESEARCH

WHAT SOLUTIONS DO CANADIANS SUPPORT?

Support

Neutral

Oppose

Unsure

Introducing legislation to combat serious forms

of harmful online content

79%

14

4

3

Making social media platforms legally responsible

for the removal of hateful and extremist content

before it can do harm

76%

15

6

3

Strengthening the Canadian Human Rights Act and the

Criminal Code to more effectively combat online hate

75%

16

5

4

Ensuring that all major cities have dedicated hate

crime units within local police forces

72%

18

6

4

Requiring social media platforms to publicly provide data

and information related to algorithms, content moderation,

and other information pertinent to preserving the safety

of online spaces and preventing harm

68%

19

6

7

Creating an independent civilian oversight body

of the RCMP

58%

26

8

8

Developing a Black Canadians Justice Strategy to

address anti-Black racism and discrimination in the

criminal justice system

55%

28

12

6

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

NANOS RESEARCH

WHAT SOLUTIONS DO CANADIANS SUPPORT?

Support

Neutral

Oppose

Unsure

Introducing legislation to combat serious forms of harmful online content

79%

14

4

3

Making social media platforms legally responsible for the removal of hateful and

extremist content before it can do harm

76%

15

6

3

Strengthening the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to more effectively combat online hate

75%

16

5

4

Ensuring that all major cities have dedicated hate crime units within local police forces

72%

18

6

4

Requiring social media platforms to publicly provide data and information related to algorithms, content

moderation, and other information pertinent to preserving the safety of online spaces and preventing harm

68%

19

6

7

Creating an independent civilian oversight body of the RCMP

58%

26

8

8

Developing a Black Canadians Justice Strategy to address anti-Black racism and discrimination

in the criminal justice system

55%

28

12

6

Note: Numbers may not add up to 100 because of rounding.

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NANOS RESEARCH

What does this all mean?

First, the appetite for action against hatred and racism is significant. Second, only about one in 10 Canadians don’t see racism as any sort of problem and are reticent to see action. The flip side is that, although not a consensus opinion, major swaths of the population see a problem and are supportive of concrete action in one form or another.

Third, social-media platforms with many inflammatory anonymous “voices” are seen as pulpits for racism, hatred and the incitement of violence. Canadians are very much ready to hold these organizations to account and to require action, even at the cost of some limitations on free speech. To paraphrase the old adage, the right to swing one’s fist ends at another person’s nose.

The big question may very well be: Is this too much of a larger, global problem to take on? Perhaps. Are the solutions that Canadians support perfect? No. How much real impact will they have? It’s uncertain.

The alternative – doing nothing – is not acceptable for a significant number of Canadians. Like many things in life, the first step is to recognize there is a problem. The second step is to take responsibility, and the third step is to start a real dialogue on a path forward.

Canada is neither immune to online hatred nor exceptional in its existence. We can, however, think about the country and the society we want to be and start that journey.

Nanos conducted an online representative survey of 2,018 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between Nov. 3 to 8, 2021. The research was commissioned by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and was conducted by Nanos Research.

More from Nanos Research

Canada is on the cusp of a winter of political discontent

2021′s federal election was a wake-up call for Canada’s leaders – but awakening to what?

Almost half of Canadians disapprove of Trudeau government’s handling of Afghanistan evacuations

Poll shows hardening position on China among Canadians

Slim majority of Canadians open to paying more to help cut Canada’s emissions, poll shows