Ottawa is under pressure from Jewish groups to bring forward a long-promised bill to tackle online hate, amid warnings that rising antisemitism is making Jews in Canada, especially on university and college campuses, feel unsafe.
Jewish groups are saying that an upsurge in antisemitic abuse online makes the bill more urgent, saying that some social media platforms are too slow to take down antisemitic insults, comments and abuse, which have escalated since attacks on Israel by Hamas militants set off a Middle East war earlier this month.
An expert panel to shape the bill was convened last year by Pablo Rodriguez, the former heritage minister. The panel looked at ways to ensure comments inciting hatred and violence are taken down more swiftly by social media platforms.
The Prime Minister told Mr. Rodriguez in his 2021 mandate letter to introduce the bill to tackle hate speech and abuse online “as soon as possible.”
Federal Justice Minister, Arif Virani, who is expected to be responsible for shepherding the bill through Parliament, told a conference on antisemitism in Ottawa last month that the government still intends to bring forward the bill, but did not specify when. The Justice Department declined to comment.
Among those who have been actively commenting on social media about the Israel-Hamas war is Laith Marouf, a consultant with the Montreal-based Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC), whose previous offensive posts led to his X, formerly Twitter, account being suspended and a $130,000 federal contract with CMAC being cancelled. His recent posts, under a fresh account, include derogatory remarks about Israelis, Israel and “Zionists.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a Canadian-based advocacy group, says the number of reports of hate crimes toward Jews since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war has more than doubled.
Richard Marceau, vice-president of CIJA, said there needed to be “a muscular approach to online hate” as well as action to enforce Canada’s existing anti-hate laws. He said there are measures in the Criminal Code to clamp down at antisemitic abuse on the streets, including during rallies.
“In the current context of a dramatic spike in antisemitism offline and online, it is more urgent than ever for the government to introduce legislation that would tackle the hate against Jews and other groups online,” he said.
Last week, the Senate human rights committee published a report recording a big increase in Islamophobia in Canada. In Ontario, Syrian refugee children have been shouted at by drivers, and Muslim women in Edmonton attacked, including at knifepoint.
Mr. Marceau suggested that before the online safety bill is passed the government should introduce a social media “literacy campaign” to raise the issue of online hate, and try to reduce it.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, co-chair of an interparliamentary task force on antisemitism, said he, along with most members of Canada’s Jewish community, are “deeply pained” to see a sharp rise in antisemitism “immediately after the greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.”
“Demonstrations that call for the boycott of Jewish businesses and glorify the murder of Israelis, students being insulted and fearing to go on campus wearing a star of David, we have not seen antisemitism like this in Canada since the 1930s,” Mr. Housefather said. “I am calling on all Canadians to speak out against this vocal minority who are scaring much of Canada’s 404,000 Jews.”
In June, the federal government announced a $5-million security program that will pay for guards outside of Jewish religious and community institutions.