Fighting Online Hate: The Need for Bill C-36's Successor

Policy Brief by Jessica Overend.

A side view of a laptop open at a 45 degree angle. The screen reflects onto the keyboard.

The regulation of online discourse is perhaps one of the most challenging issues presented to Parliament right now, as well as one of the most urgent.  In the 2021, Liberal MP David Lametti introduced Bill C-36, which sought to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to define “hatred” in relation to hate propaganda [1]. However, the dissolution of parliament on August 15, 2021 effectively killed the Bill just after its second reading. Unfulfilled promises from the Liberal Party of a replacement Bill withhold an offer of hope when the nation may need it most. 

The Issue at Hand

In Canada, hate speech is prohibited under section 319 of the Criminal Code. It states that “the communication of statements to incite hatred against an identifiable group in any public place where such incitement is likely to lead to the breach of peace, is an indictable offence" [2]. The issue which has been unfolding particularly rapidly in the last two years is the lack of definition of ‘public place’ — in turn, uncovering a disconnect in policy surrounding online hate speech. The rising levels of online hate in Canada have been immensely increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to rise unless a substantive policy targeting online hate is implemented.  The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has continuously warned that extremist groups will continue to use COVID-19-related social trauma to spread disinformation and conspiracies to radicalize others.   The broadcasting of public health disinformation as a vehicle to spread hateful speech and harmful rhetoric is extremely dangerous. Presenting these conspiracy theories in an easily digestible format that is accessible to people of all ages all over the world, as is prevalent online, allows for the exponential growth of online hatred [3].

Bill C-36

Bill C-36, the previous Bill tabled to tackle online hate, sought to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act, amend the Criminal Code, and generally bridge the policy gap between offline and online discrimination regulation.  The Canadian Human Rights Act amendment would have made online hate speech, where it is “likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination,” a discriminatory and punishable practice.4  The Criminal Code would have gained a formal definition of hatred—the emotion that involves detestation or vilification and that is stronger than dislike or disdain—creating an easier pathway for those impacted to report acts of hate [5].  While Bill C-36 alone would not prevent online hate, it would have provided a necessary framework to establish regulation of online discourse to prevent the spread of hateful rhetoric. 

Next Steps 

The Liberals promised to introduce a new Bill addressing online hate within the first 100 days of the administration. Considering the 100-day mark passed on February 3, 2022, hope for regulation is waning.  The ‘Freedom Convoy’ events which unfolded in Ottawa and across Canada reflect the interconnectedness of public health misinformation and targeted hate, as well as the ease with which this messaging can spread through social media.  It is increasingly clear that the situation is dire, and we must act to prevent the continuation of tolerance for online hate.  A new Bill that seeks to define hate, and to make online hate speech a punishable offence is the bare minimum in the fight of online hatred.  A new Bill that would regulate the spread of known misinformation, and is informed by the Fundamental Freedoms of section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, would add a necessary depth to regulation.  Understanding the relationship between misinformation and hate speech, and reflecting this relationship within policy, must be a priority for Parliament.  Right now, the government is allowing the subjects of online hate, and the gross use of misinformation spreading hateful rhetoric, to slip through the cracks of Canadian anti-hatred policy. 

 

Bibliography Connolly, Amanda. “Trudeau Promised Online Hate Reform by Feb. 3. Experts Say It's Unlikely, but Urge Action - National.” Global News. Global News, February 2, 2022. https://globalnews.ca/news/8586520/online-hate-legislation-canada/

Criminal Code, RSC 1995, c C-46, s 319(1).

N/A, “Government Bill (House of Commons) C-36 (43-2) - First Reading - an Act to Amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act and to Make Related Amendments to Another Act (Hate Propaganda, Hate Crimes and Hate Speech) - Parliament of Canada, 2021. https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/bill/C-36/first-reading.

Stober, Eric. “Liberals Introduce Bill to Fight Online Hate with Criminal Code Amendments - National.” Global News. Global News, June 24, 2021. https://globalnews.ca/news/7976076/bill-c-36-online-hate-canada/.