Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Question for Canadian Readers: Hate-Speech Laws in Canada and Steps for Action?

I'd like to ask a bit of advice from readers, especially those of you living in Canada. I know that quite a few regular readers of Bilgrimage are Canadians, because some Canadian friends leave comments here routinely, and I hear from others by email.

From my years living in Canada, I also know that Canada has hate-speech laws with real teeth in them, laws that I admire, and which I've long thought we need in the U.S. Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act states,

It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination (my emphases).

And here's where I'd welcome advice from Canadian readers or others who know how Canadian laws restricting hate speech work: suppose that someone living in Canada decides to target someone else online, someone she has never met but whom she and others collaborating with her have chosen as their target solely because he is a blogger who belongs to a group of people they choose to demean. Suppose this Canadian citizen engages in her demeaning behavior by publishing at her Twitter site and on blogs a steady stream of statements designed very specifically to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt. Suppose the person being so targeted happens to be gay, a category protected under Canadian hate-speech laws.

Suppose that, though the person targeted has asked the individual targeting him to stop the stream of abuse, and has notified Twitter of the abuse, the person engaging in the abuse does the opposite: she revs up the abuse, claiming that her "God" has ordered her to point out that the person she's targeting (whom she has never met and does not know individually, but only as a category of human beings she  intends to expose to hatred or contempt) is a sinner headed for hell. And she's a saint engaging in a holy war by targeting said sinner. Because this is how her "God" functions--by empowering "militant" believers to attack innocent victims that they select solely on the basis of the "sins" in which they presume these victims engage because of the minority group to which they belong.

What steps can the person so targeted and exposed to hatred or contempt in a public way that fosters discrimination against both him and a whole category of human beings to which he belongs take, under Canadian law? If I happened to be the person experiencing this abuse, I myself would certainly do all in my power to see that it was combatted under law--including seeking legal counsel, taking legal steps, filing official complaints with government agencies, repeatedly notifying Twitter of the abuse, anything at all that might be done to stop such individuals from harming others in this public and abusive way. 

I wonder if any Canadian readers (or others) might have some tips or insights here. As I gather information to deal with a particular case, I'm already in touch with some civil rights lawyers, but their scope is limited to the American side of this problem and I think they can deal only with the American perpetrators under anti-defamation laws, where there's a clear case of targeting and harming a person's professional standing by making public, unfounded statements about his lack of professional acumen. 

I'd welcome any and all suggestions about practical steps someone in the situation described above can take--e.g., alerting the proper authorities in Canada to the abuse that appears to infringe hate-speech laws in Canada, and so forth. Thanks in advance for any advice anyone may have to offer me. (I also know of a number of attorneys who are regular readers of this blog, and I surely won't be unhappy to hear any advice you might have for someone who finds himself in this situation.)

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