Canadian MP Rachael Thomas on the Online Hate Bill, By Charles Taylor (Florida)

As mentioned in my article dealing with Canada's online hate Bill, one critic wrote to every Canadian MP, and only one replied, stating her opposition, Rachael Thomas. Her letter, arguing that this Bill is one of the greatest abuses of human rights to be seen in a long while, is below:

My wife wrote to all Canadian MP's about our opposition to the Online Harms Bill C-63. MP Rachael Thomas of Lethbridge is the only one who wrote back … It is the best written summary of issues I have seen yet. Long, but here it is…

"Thank you for writing to me regarding Bill C-63, the Liberal's latest rendition of their online harms legislation.

While the federal government has touted this bill as an initiative to protect children, it does little to accomplish this noble cause, and a great deal to inhibit freedom of speech. Permit me to outline the bill in more detail.

There are four key parts to the bill: Part 1 creates the Online Harms Act; Part 2 amends the Criminal Code; Part 3 amends the Canadian Human Rights Act, and Part 4 amends An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service. I will focus on the first three parts of the bill in the rest of the letter.

Part 1: The bureaucratic arm will consist of three entities: the Digital Safety Commission, Digital Safety Ombudsperson, and Digital Safety Office. These new offices are made up almost entirely of Cabinet appointees and are given powers to receive and investigate complaints concerning harmful content, collect data, and develop more regulations. The Chairperson of the Digital Safety Commission would be voted on by Parliament. The Digital Safety Commission may investigate complaints and hold hearings regarding violations of the Act. The commission may act with the power of the federal court and may authorize any person to investigate compliance and non-compliance.

Penalties for violating an order of the commission or hindering anyone they authorize depend on whether a regulated service or individual commits the violation. The maximum penalty for a violation is not more than 8% of the gross global revenue of the person that is believed to have committed the violation or $25 million, whichever is greater. Cabinet and the Digital Safety Commission can make further regulations concerning the Commission's powers and financial enforcement (fines).

Setting up a bureaucratic arm will do little-to-nothing to protect children. The last thing our system can handle right now is a stack of new complaints. It can't even handle the existing ones.

Part 2: Bill C-63 creates a new hate crime offence that will make any offence under the Criminal Code, or any Act of Parliament, an indictable offence and punishable to life in prison if the offence was motivated by hatred. A definition of 'hatred' is introduced in s. 319(7), which is defined to mean 'the emotion that involves detestation or vilification and that is stronger than disdain or dislike.' s. 319 (8) includes the clarification that the communication of a statement does not incite or promote hatred, for the purposes of this section, solely because it discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends.

Furthermore, the bill increases the punishment for an offence in s. 318 (1), advocating genocide, to imprisonment for life. The current punishment is up to 5 years. The bill also increases the punishments for offences in s. 319 (public incitement of hatred, wilful promotion of hatred, wilful promotion of antisemitism) from up to 2 years to not more than 5 years.

Alarmingly, a peace bond is created for 'fear of hate propaganda offence or hate crime.' This will allow a person to seek a court-ordered peace bond if they reasonably fear that someone will commit a hate propaganda offence or hate crime against them in the future. If you've watched the movie "Minority Report" you know how scary this is.

Part 3: The bill reinstates Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which empowers officials at the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to make subjective determinations as to what forms of expression constitute hate speech, and they may also decide on remedies including fines. This will allow any individual or group in Canada to file complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against users who post 'hate speech' online, with an accused facing fines of up to $50,000.

The legislation defines hate speech as content that is "likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of such a prohibited ground." In other words, the content doesn't necessarily have to directly express vilification; it only needs to be assessed as "likely to" vilify someone by a human rights tribunal. Section 13 is a punitive regime that lacks procedural safeguards and rights of the accused that exist in criminal law. Truth is no defence, and the standard of proof that will apply to Section 13 is "balance of probabilities," not "beyond reasonable doubt," as exists in a criminal case.

As you have rightly pointed out, Parts 2 and 3 of this Bill are a direct attack on freedom of speech and will have a significant chilling effect as people fear the possibility of house arrest or life in prison. Margaret Atwood has gone so far as to say that C-63 invites the possibility of revenge accusations and the risk of "thoughtcrime."

Furthermore, its alarming that the Bill enables individuals to anonymously file complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission against those they deem to be posting hate speech. If found guilty, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal can impose fines of up to $70,000 and issue takedown orders for the content in question. Additionally, the tribunal is granted the authority to shield the identities of complainants and prohibit defendants from disclosing this information if uncovered. In essence, accusers of hate speech will have their identities safeguarded, while those accused face significant financial penalties.

Common-sense Conservatives believe that we should criminalize and enforce laws against sexually victimizing a child or revictimizing a survivor online, bullying a child online, inducing a child to harm themselves or inciting violence. Criminal bans on intimate content communicated without consent, including deepfakes, must be enforced and expanded. Conservatives believe that these serious acts should be criminalized, investigated by police, tried in court, and punished with jail, not pushed off to a new bureaucratic entity that does nothing to prevent crimes and provides no justice to victims. We will bring forward changes to the Criminal Code that will actually protect children without infringing on free speech.

Thank you again for writing to me, and please accept my best wishes.

Warmest regards,

Rachael Thomas

Member of Parliament for Lethbridge". 



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Tuesday, 21 May 2024

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