The Liberal government has announced new legislation meant to curb hate speech that ministers said could set the stage for other bills in the fall.
The government said the measures announced on Wednesday as the current session of the House of Commons concluded would better define online hate speech in law.
Bill C-36 would empower individuals and groups who feel targeted by such hate speech to pursue removal orders through the federal commission and tribunal system that exists under the Canadian Human Rights Act. It would also amend the Criminal Code to allow people to apply for peace bonds in a bid to prevent hate crimes. (A peace bond is a court order from a judge that imposes conditions on a person who is feared to be about to commit crimes.)
Justice Minister David Lametti called the bill an incremental measure partly propelled by a fatal attack this month against a Muslim family in London, Ont.
“The recent events in London, tragically although they didn’t raise new issues, they did put this back really in the spotlight. The murder of the Afzaal family is something that we’re all dealing with,“ Mr. Lametti said in a conference call with reporters.
Mr. Lametti later added that “this is a first step” and will help the Liberals lay groundwork for more laws.
In recent months, the Liberal government has been under pressure to do more to regulate the internet to stop the spread online of hate forums, misogynist groups and material on child sexual abuse.
Mr. Lametti and other ministers said they intend to release discussion papers and canvass views this summer on what such legislation could look like.
“The proposed legislation that we’ve introduced today will help protect Canadians from hate speech and from hate crimes online,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said, “and very importantly, it sets a stage for additional legislation that we intend to introduce in the fall to further combat harmful online content.”
Rob Moore, the Conservative justice critic, said in a statement that the bill brought forward in the last minutes before Parliament ended for the summer shows the Liberal government is only interested in political posturing for the next election - not rooting out hate speech.
Asked about that point, Mr. Lametti said, “This is a careful process. Sometimes things take time.”
Much of the new law is directed against individuals who make hateful postings on public internet forums. It allows complainants to pursue remedies against people who write such posts, including fines and potentially the removal of the posts.
Individuals would have to file a formal complaint to the rights commission, which could refer it to the rights tribunal for a hearing. Justice Department officials acknowledged these processes can take more than a year, and suggested people could also file criminal complaints under hate-propaganda laws if they felt the new processes were too time-consuming.
Police and intelligence officials in Canada have been looking for a broader array of tools to deal with extremists who are gravitating towards violence after being incited in online forums that promote xenophobia, misogyny or other kinds of hatred.
A 20-year-old has been charged with terrorism and murder in connection with the June 6 attack in London.
A pickup truck speeding down a residential road struck a Muslim family, killing a 15-year-old girl, her grandmother, father and mother in what police have said they believe was an intentional act in which the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith.
Investigations into ideologically motivated violent crimes frequently centre on the internet activities of the suspects as detectives look for connections to online forums that could have incited them.
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