Canada’s ruling Liberal government announced on Wednesday that it plans to make online hate speech a crime punishable by as much as $20,000 (roughly $16,250 US) for the first offense and $50,000 ($40,600 US) for the second. The proposal would punish social media users who broke the law but exempt social media companies that host such content from fines.
The news, first reported by Canada’s public broadcaster, comes after a 20-year-old man recently rammed his truck into a family of five in Ontario, killing everyone but a 9-year-old, in what Canadian police say was an anti-Muslim terror attack.
Canada’s Attorney General David Lametti assured Canadians that the proposed law would not target “simple expressions of dislike or disdain” during a virtual press conference on Wednesday that was livestreamed on YouTube.
Instead, Lametti said, the law is only designed to punish the most extreme forms of hatred that “expresses detestation or vilification of a person or group on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
“Hate speech directly contradicts the values underlying freedom of expression and our Charter of Rights,” Lametti said. “It threatens the safety and well-being of its targets. It silences and intimidates, especially when the target is a vulnerable person or community. When hate speech spreads, its victims lose their freedom to participate in civil society online.”
The government, headed by Prime Minsiter Justin Trudeau, released a statement on Wednesday outlining the goals of the proposed legislation, known as Bill C-36, as well as other steps being taken to defend against online racial abuse:
- amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to define a new discriminatory practice of communicating hate speech online, and to provide individuals with additional remedies to address hate speech;
- add a definition of “hatred” to section 319 of the Criminal Code based on Supreme Court of Canada decisions; and
- create a new peace bond in the Criminal Code designed to prevent hate propaganda offences and hate crimes from being committed, and make related amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The government also notes that it will released a “detailed technical discussion paper” in the coming weeks to inform Canadians about the nitty gritty of this proposed law.
“Online platforms are central to participation in public life and have enormous power over online speech and Canadians’ everyday lives. While they allow us as Canadians to stay in touch with loved ones, learn and debate, they can also be used to discriminate, harm and silence,” Steven Guilbeault, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, said in a statement published online.
“In consultation with Canadians, the Government of Canada is committed to taking action to put in place a robust, fair and consistent legislative and regulatory framework on the most egregious and reprehensible types of harmful content,” Giullbeault continued. “This is why we will engage Canadians in the coming weeks to ask for feedback on specific, concrete proposals that will form the basis of legislation.”
It’s not yet clear how images would be treated under this new law as opposed to text. As just one example, would blackface be considered hate speech? If so, Canada’s Prime Minister could be in a bit of trouble.