Hate laws vital in the digital age, Supreme Court hears in landmark case
Hate laws vital in the digital age, Supreme Court hears in landmark case - The Globe and Mail
The instantaneous spread of hateful material through the internet has made it all the more vital that hate-mongers be restrained, the Supreme Court of Canada was told this morning.
Launching oral arguments at a landmark appeal pitting free speech against anti-hate protections, Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission lawyer Grant Scharfstein urged the Court not to leave minorities even more vulnerable than they already are.
“There has been a sea change in technology that allows it to be dessiminated at the push of a button,” Mr. Scharfstein said.
He said that even the Bible may contain passages that would qualify as hate literature. They key is whether material has the effect of causing harm to a minority.
“The Human Rights Commission would be in the position of reviewing the scriptures,” Mr Justice Louis Lebel said.
At the centre of the case is a 43-year-old, anti-gay proselytizer – William Whatcott – who distributed thousands of flyers in Saskatoon harshly criticizing gay relationships and lifestyles.
‘More protection’ needed in hate speech cases: lawyer | News | National Post
OTTAWA — At the Supreme Court review of Canada’s hate speech laws, in the case of anti-gay pamphleteer William Whatcott, a lawyer for the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission acknowledged his province’s law is written so vaguely and subjectively that most of it is deliberately ignored in practice.
Grant Scharfstein told a panel of seven judges that section 14 of Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code, which prohibits speech that “exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles, or otherwise affronts the dignity [of an identifiable group]” is interpreted in law to mean only “hatred.” He said the rest could be struck out without any effect on how cases are prosecuted.
He compared the vagueness to the similarly fuzzy requirement in the Highway Traffic Act that drivers exercise “good care and attention,” but said in both cases the law provides crucial protection.
“The SHRC is not saying that the respondent cannot hold the belief and opinions he holds. We are not saying he cannot spread and disseminate those views publicly. What we are saying is that he cannot do it in a way that is hateful,” Mr. Scharfstein said.
The legal definition of hatred has been further refined in human rights law with a checklist of “hallmarks of hate,” including descriptions of target groups as a powerful menace, predators of the vulnerable, the cause of a current social problem, dangerous or violent by nature, devoid of any redeeming qualities, and requiring banishment, segregation or eradication to save society from harm.
“Since Taylor, there has been a sea change which allows one to spread hate at the push of a button,” Mr. Scharfstein said, citing the recent Norwegian massacre as an extreme example. “More protection is needed, not less.”
Taylor was a narrowly split 4-3 decision, in which current Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin was in the dissenting minority, favouring a more robust defence of free speech. In a sign the top court might be willing to overturn 20 years of jurisprudence, and update or even strike the Taylor precedent, Mme. Justice McLachlin questioned the validity of that definition, which aims to capture the subjective emotion of hatred with an objective legal test.