On June 23, 2021, the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada introduced Bill C-36 to address hate speech and hate crimes. In addition, the bill intends to provide improved remedies for victims and hold those accountable for the harms of the hatred they spread. Not only does the bill amend the Canada Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code, but the Liberal government also intends to regulate and monitor ‘harmful online content.’
Notably, the Liberal government promised to “combat serious forms of harmful online content…hate speech, terrorist content, content that incites violence, child sexual abuse material and the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.” In addition, heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault states that in producing and spreading hateful online content, a new federal regulator will require the online platform to remove the content within 24 hours.
Why is the Liberal Government Prioritizing This?
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, white supremacy, racism, and extremism have supposedly increased. In 2020, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service stated that increased online speech is targeting “Jews, China, immigrants, the government and societal elites” for the cause of the pandemic. Irrespective of the explicit racism, sexism, and homophobic online content, I take issue with the identification of societal elites as a target of hate speech.
Ultimately, enacting public policy requires weighing the advantages and disadvantages of its societal, cultural, economic, and political influence. As a result, questioning and challenging authorities of all levels are required to hold decision-makers accountable. In this way, it is significant to understand the presumptions upheld by supporting Bill C-36.
The bill assumes that Canada, instead of a haven of multiculturalism, is a catalyst for hate speech. The government is uniquely positioned to enact unilateral control over free speech by shifting government narratives from multiculturalism to hate. I want to clarify that I do not support racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory content. However, allowing the government to manufacture and reproduce information they see as “truth” and “non-harmful” limits individual capacities towards free speech, a constitutional right.
Further, limitations on democratic dialogues inherently constrain individual and collective capacities to challenge the status quo. Although such restrictions are laid out throughout history, nations across the globe, on all continents, understand what happens when governments unilaterally decide what is appropriate and what should ultimately be silenced. Enacting internet limitation policies, blackouts, and content censorship allows the government to manufacture its public image. As a result, steps toward regulating and monitoring online content lead to authoritarianism.
From the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mobarak’s 2011 internet blackouts to contemporary China’s Great Firewall, the parallel is that governments regulate what content citizens can see and which applications they can use. In this way, perspectives, experiences, and research deemed unorthodox are silenced to protect racialized and marginalized groups.
Accordingly, counter-arguments highlight that hateful online content harms LGBTQ+, Indigenous, and racialized individuals and communities. However, do these groups genuinely support Bill C-36? For example, From the University of Calgary’s law faculty, Darryl Carmichael argues that the bill disproportionately restricts online freedoms and makes racialized and marginalized people police targets. With this in mind, it is significant to understand the disadvantages and advantages of regulating online content.
Violence versus Online Content
While Canada experiences a low level of hate crimes, any benefits to Canadian society from Bill C-36 hinge on a causal link that online hate results in actual violence. Thus, the question is whether online content incites violence against racialized and marginalized populations. Such causal links are supported by conspiracy theories bolstered by white supremacy, in which racialized and marginalized groups are targeted.
In 2020, Canadian police reported 2,669 hate-motivated incidents. Although this number rose from 2019, there are other factors to consider. For example, the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic, rising inflation, and other societal, economic, and political factors motivated individuals to blame groups they deemed to have caused such hardships.
Further, a recently leaked report on the Role of Information and Communications Technology on Hate Crimes from the U.S. Department of Commerce found “no evidence that electronic communications, including the internet, cause hate crimes.” With this in mind, no Canadian department or agency has conducted a similar study to provide the necessity of Bill C-36.
Stopping Hate Speech Requires More Of It
There must be more open dialogue instead of eliminating the one percent of Canadians set on spreading hateful online content. Remember that you had an opinion that differed from your friends and family? one time, How did you feel when you realized that your perspective was in the minority? Engaging with hateful online content requires dealing with content deemed offensive, harmful, or malicious towards racialized and marginalized groups. A thought, belief, or even misinterpretation of concepts and events should not be criminalized. While hate speech does undoubtedly cause harm, emotional, psychological, and sometimes physical, removing exposure to the source via greater government control only fuels future strategies to mobilize in-person hate groups.
One possible outcome of the Liberal government’s push toward internet censorship is that the one percent of Canadians that spread hateful content will be incentivized to transition to in-person gatherings motivated by racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discriminatory ‘othering.’
Regrettably, many Canadians are unaware of the thriving Klu Klux Klan chapters across the country from the 1920s to the late 1980s. In times of no internet access, Canadians motivated by hate found a way to express themselves in a tangible, palpable form of violence. Therefore, there is power in supporting free speech online to curtail increased instances of violence against racialized and marginalized groups.
Keep a close eye on the Liberal government’s interest in online censorship in the coming months. From rising inflation, the housing crises, rising unemployment, the opioid crisis, the failing healthcare system, and the ineffective immigration processes that support Canadians and foreigners abroad, it may be worthwhile for the government to focus on such urgent issues.
Monica Bassili is a final year student at the University of Alberta. She writes a weekly column for Ladiescorner.ca
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