by Lorne Gunter
Canadians with strong opinions owe Brian Storseth a debt of gratitude. Storseth is the Conservative MP for Westlock-St. Paul.
Last Wednesday, the House of Commons passed his private member’s bill repealing Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the provision that had permitted the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) to investigate complaints regarding “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.”
Before you jump to the conclusion that Storseth’s victory leaves vulnerable minorities unprotected from hatemongers, remember the Criminal Code still contains prohibitions against hate speech.
What Storseth’s law does is take a big club out of the hands of the CHRC — a club it had used selectively to censor the Internet and punish people with views that disagreed with the commissioners’ own politically correct beliefs.
It was Section 13 that was used by the commission to persecute Maclean’s columnist Mark Steyn for his pointed views on radical Islam.
The big problem with the controversial section was that it was too easy for activists to abuse; too easy for them to use to silence their opponents.
Another problem was the CHRC believed its crusade to stamp out hate (as it defines it) took precedence over freedom of speech.
In sworn testimony, its investigators admitted they considered free speech to be an alien concept.
Commissioners were told several times by experts — including two of their own adjudicators — that Section 13 violated the charter, yet they refused to stop enforcing it.
If you are accused of hate speech under the Criminal Code, you are presumed innocent. Not so under Section 13, where the onus is on you to prove your words hurt no feelings.
While the truth and “fair comment” are defences in a criminal hate-speech trial — and the Crown needs to prove intent and show how your words actually led to discrimination — none of that is true at a human rights hearing. Nor do you have a right to face your accuser or cross-examine his or her testimony.
What’s more, whether or not your words or website expose an individual or group to discrimination is determined by what that individual or group feels has happened to them. There is no definition of hate and no objective standard of harm.
Also, at human rights hearings, rules of evidence are much, much looser than they are in courts. Hearsay evidence, for instance, is often admitted.
Commission investigators are not above working alongside the activists who bring hate complaints, either, and they have been known to use entrapment — using assumed names to post racist messages on websites, then charging the sites’ webmasters for promoting hate if the phoney messages aren’t removed fast enough.
In one case, CHRC investigators even hacked into a private citizen’s Wi-Fi account so they could post damning messages without it being obvious they were using government computers.
The proof of just how stacked the tribunal process has been comes from the CHRC’s conviction rate: From the time Section 13 was added to the human rights act in 1977 until it began to attract the ire of Storseth (and others, such as Sun News’ Ezra Levant) in 2009, no person charged under Section 13 had ever been acquitted. In other words, the CHRC had a 100% conviction rate on hate-speech complaints.
No doubt that rate was the envy of many Third World dictators.
But it’s hardly a surprise, given the CHRC was judge, jury and investigator and could warp the evidence and testimonies as needed to support its accusations.
By leading the charge to expunge Section 13, Brian Storseth has done a great service to Canadians’ freedoms.
Categories: Contributor Columns