Avi Benlolo: Strengthening Canada’s Hate Speech Laws is a Sad Necessity

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The Jewish community in particular (but certainly not exclusively) has been victimized online beyond measure

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Public dismay at the proposed legal changes to tackle hate speech online is legitimate given the potential for abuse. If approved, the changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act and related amendments to the Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act will fundamentally change the way Canadians behave online. Of course, in a free and democratic society, the maintenance of freedom of expression is essential to the very foundation of our national enterprise.

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Many argue that restricting speech and even behavior online denies our fundamental rights and freedoms as citizens. For some, this means an encroachment of state control reminiscent of tyrannical regimes and even communism. China’s recent severe crackdown on media and personal expression in Hong Kong underscores the danger of state power over rights and freedoms.

The new “Canadian government action to protect Canadians from hate speech and hate crime” would crack down on people who express “hatred or defamation of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a motive. of discrimination prohibited ”. This would apply to the public communications of individual users on the Internet, including social media, personal websites, and mass emails.

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This effectively means that journalists, writers, and social media influencers could come under closer scrutiny.

Journalists, writers and social media influencers could be subject to further scrutiny

I understand. As a promoter of free speech exposed to a daily dose of diverse opinions, my rational self agrees with the late United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ assertion that “the sunlight would be the best disinfectant ”. But there are also problems with this perspective. As a student of the Holocaust, I observed that anti-Semitism is an infectious disease which, if not controlled in the social market, will rise to the height of hatred and discriminatory practices in almost all companies. Sunlight does not disinfect anti-Semitism. Sunlight allows anti-Semitism to reproduce when it comes to light.

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Statistics Canada reports that the Jewish community is the most targeted religious group for hate crime and speech in this country. In 2017, incidents of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in general increased by 47% here. In 2019, police recorded 1,946 hate-motivated criminal incidents, an increase of 7% from the previous year. Without a doubt, these numbers have risen under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic, as people are spending more time online. During the Hamas-Israel conflict in May, a torrent of online anti-Semitism infected every corner of the globe.

For this reason, during my testimony before a parliamentary task force on online hate in May 2019, I advocated for strengthening our laws on hate speech and hate crime. As someone who regularly receives doses of anti-Semitic content from those who have been targeted, I know that over the past two decades we have seen a steady increase in online anti-Semitism and hate. against many groups. I doubt that few would dispute this point.

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  1. A high-profile example of the type of vitriol that can be leveled online is the experience of Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna, who announced on Monday that she would not seek re-election.

    Hate speech bill will not limit freedom of speech, but improve it, supporters say

  2. Holocaust survivor Max Eisen in 2016.

    Avi Benlolo: The world forgets the lessons of the Holocaust at its peril

The Jewish community in particular (but certainly not exclusively) has been victimized online beyond measure: Jewish university students have been attacked by their peers for simply identifying themselves as supporters of Israel in the latest conflict. Children of Holocaust survivors relive their parents’ trauma as they see Holocaust denial jokes flash on their screens. The Jewish community is aghast when a newspaper displays a cartoon of an Israeli soldier with his knee on the neck of a Palestinian. Anti-Semitic hate speech online is pervasive and common.

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In light of this reality, I argued for the reinstatement of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, in order to reverse the review and legal ramifications of hate online. Over the years, I have encouraged parliamentarians to strengthen our hate speech laws to prevent what was a predictable market that spreads hatred and intolerance at an accelerated rate. For victims of hate speech online, Internet regulations give them a mechanism to challenge abusive behavior. But operators of social media platforms and internet service providers must also be held accountable.

For non-victims, the argument for free speech is an honest and rational reaction to the danger of state expansionism. The inevitable abuse of the law by individuals must be accompanied by severe penalties. But let’s put it this way – without our hate speech laws, the now infamous “Your Ward News” in Toronto would still publish its misogynist and anti-Semitic material in print and online. If he had been authorized to publish under the notion of freedom of expression, it is possible that other publications also appeared. As someone involved in this case since its inception, I am proud that Holocaust survivors and their children no longer need to find this document on their doorstep.

There is no place for hate speech – ever. If we are to build a more compassionate society, we must become more culturally competent, while remaining true to our core values ​​of freedom, democracy and human rights. Unfortunately, and although unpopular in many areas, the regulation of hate speech is more necessary today than ever. Yes, this question is controversial and all sides of the argument have valid concerns. But the silence on anti-Semitism in recent weeks has shown us that legal remedies are needed.

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