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Tories repeal sections of Human Rights Act banning hate speech over telephone or Internet

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Tories repeal sections of Human Rights Act banning hate speech over telephone or Internet

Jason Fekete, Postmedia News Jun 7, 2012 – 10:41 AM ET | Last Updated: Jun 7, 2012 1:02 PM ET

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The majority Harper government supported a private member's bill from Alberta Conservative MP Brian Storseth, pictured, that would scrap Section 13 of the human rights code, which deals with complaints regarding "the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet."

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives voted late Wednesday to repeal controversial sections of the Canadian Human Rights Act banning hate speech on the Internet, backing a bill they say promotes freedom of expression and would have the courts play a larger role in handling hate-crime cases.

In a free vote of 153 to 136, the Tory caucus supported a private member’s bill from Alberta Conservative MP Brian Storseth that would scrap Section 13 of the human rights code, which deals with complaints regarding “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.”

Storseth argues the current human rights code fails to protect freedom of speech, which is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and believes Canadians are better off if the government repeals sections 13 and 54 — the latter section dealing with associated penalties.

“It’s a really important step for freedom of expression in our country,” Storseth said Thursday, the morning after the bill passed third and final reading in the House of Commons.

“There hasn’t been a tremendous pushback as you would have seen seven or eight years ago when this issue first really arose, and I think it’s because there has been a fruitful debate in our country.”

Senior cabinet ministers supported the bill and the results generated loud applause from Conservative MPs. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is overseas and wasn’t present for the vote. Most opposition politicians voted against the bill, although Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MP Scott Simms supported it.

Storseth, a backbencher, said the current human rights code allows too many frivolous cases to proceed against citizens, when the Criminal Code already covers hate speech that could generate harm against an individual or group.

Acts of hate speech are serious crimes that should be investigated by police officers, not civil servants, he said, adding that the cases should be handled by “real judges and real lawyers,” instead of a quasi-judicial body such as the human rights commission.

The bill would effectively strip the human rights commission of its ability to rule on cases of hate speech over the phone and Internet, he said, and instead hand many of the powers to the courts.

Storseth said he has also been speaking with colleagues in the Conservative-dominated Senate in hopes the bill will pass through the upper chamber and receive royal assent by the end of the year. The bill contains a one-year implementation period.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission says it received 1,914 complaints last year, but that it has received only three hate-speech complaints since 2009.

Two of those three complaints were dismissed and one is currently being examined by the commission.

Canadian police departments reported 1,401 hate crimes in 2010, or 4.1 hate crimes per 100,000 population, according to recently released data from Statistics Canada.

New Democrat public-safety critic Randall Garrison said Wednesday that, due to the large number of hate crimes, the human-rights commission needs to have the power to combat the issue online and force individuals and groups to remove websites containing hateful speech.

Removing the sections from the human-rights code will effectively strip the commission of its power to educate Canadians and shut down inappropriate websites, he said.

“We do have a serious problem,” Garrison said. “If you take away the power to take (websites) down, it’s not clear they have any mandate to even to talk to people about it and educate them about it.”

Garrison said the changes to the human-rights code are another example of a controversial policy decision the government fully supported but tried to disguise as a private member’s bill.

Conservative party members voted a few years ago at their annual convention in favour of a resolution to eliminate the human rights commission’s authority to “regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints” dealing with hate speech on the Internet.

The prime minister has previously said that “everyone has some concerns” about the issue and that it’s a delicate balancing act to protect free speech without inciting hatred.

Postmedia News

http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/06/07/tories-repeal-sections-of-human-rights-act-banning-hate-speech-over-telephone-or-internet/

Good move and I stand completely against the opposition in this case. I find it very difficult to believe only one Liberal sides with the Cons on this, despite the vote showing it to be the case. Yet another link in a continuing chain of sham votes. Deviation from the party line must be a protected right, nor punished by the party.

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I'm all for it too.

As long as the "hate speech" doesn't solicit any criminal activity nor is directed at any unwilling recepients (ie. cold calling, e-mail, etc.), I have no problem with it.

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Sounds like a good idea to me. This is a good move considering the government's recent step-up in security bills, and *gasp* actually shows some maturity on the part of our government. I see it as an acknowledgment that if they are going to be monitoring our phone calls and internet use more closely then it makes sense to scrap legislation that makes expressing yourself in a non-criminal manner punishable.

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