Section 13 repeal ‘not a done deal’
Thursday, 21 February 2013 13:19
Senate is next obstacle for end to anti-free speech clause in rights act
OTTAWA - Senator Douglas Finley warns the passage of Bill C-304 to eliminate the anti-free speech Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act is “not a done deal.”
Conservative MP Brian Storseth’s private member’s bill to eliminate the vaguely worded Section 13 clause that deems communication “likely” to expose a protected group to hatred or contempt discrimination under the act passed the House of Commons last June. Finley, the Conservative senator who is shepherding the bill’s passage through the Senate, said many pundits assumed the fight had been won then, leaving “a false impression.”
“This will receive opposition in the Senate, although we have a pretty large majority,” Finley said, noting that even some Conservative senators have spoken against it.
Bill C-304 is expected to go to a vote on second reading soon. Finley expects the bill to pass and go on to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee, which will receive witnesses.
“How long this will take is very largely a matter of the interest shown by outside witnesses to attend the hearings,” he said.
“The process can take anywhere from a matter of days to several months. It’s difficult to predict,” but the “issue provokes passion on both sides of the argument.”
Finley said he “would really like to see the passion warm up again, especially among those who are passionate against Section 13.”
Opponents of Bill C-304 “are rallying their side,” he said. “They know the battle’s not over with.”
Section 13 and similar provisions in provincial human rights codes have been used against Catholic Insight magazine, Calgary Bishop Fred Henry and a number of others for Christian expression on issues such as traditional marriage and Christian teachings on human sexuality.
The Catholic Civil Rights League’s Joanne McGarry “hopes that the legislation to end Section 13 will make its way through the Senate and become law as soon as possible. The peaceable expression of opinion based on religious belief should not be penalized in a democracy, and Section 13 gave far too much power to non-judicial tribunals to do just that, as for example in the case of Catholic Insight magazine.
“In our view, limitations on expression should be subject to the built-in protections of real courts through libel and slander laws and hate speech provisions in the Criminal Code,” she said.
“It’s a badly used, blunt-force tool,” said Finley. “It’s outrageous.”
When Finley spoke on the bill last June, he said Section 13 has jeopardized freedom of speech in Canada.
“The broad scope of this section and the wide investigative powers and quasi-judicial independence granted to human rights commissions places too much power in the hands of unelected officials,” he said. “These commissions have, in the last decade at least, run roughshod over the civil liberties of Canadians. Political correctness has run amok.
“The abuses of both provincial and federal human rights commissions cannot be allowed to continue unabated,” he said. “The censorship of politically incorrect statements in publications is not only wrong but also contrary to our democratic principles.”
But Bill C-304 faces stiff opposition from Liberals led by Senator Jim Munson, a former television journalist. In October, Munson told the Senate Section 13 “plays a crucial role in promoting tolerance and respect among Canadians.”
Section 13 and the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada “are a necessary complement to one another,” he said, noting the higher burden of proof required by the Criminal Code.
Munson described the debate on Section 13 as “the proxy for an open assault on the very existence of an administrative framework to protect human rights in this country.”