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Executive Summary - Submission to the federal consultation on online hate

Introduction

Online hate speech affects all Canadians, but more so its direct victims. It is essential to recognize and address victims’ needs in the aftermath of hate crimes, and the response of the criminal justice system to victims must be diverse.

Earlier in 2019, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights of the House of Commons produced a report entitled Taking Action to End Online Hate, which made several recommendations on how to address online hate speech. The recommendations fell under four broad categories:

  • Consideration of civil remedy to combat online hate
  • Amending section 319 of the Criminal Code
  • Adding a peace bond to the Criminal Code
  • Other options

In this submission, we share our views of the Justice Committee’s recommendations, as well as some other options for legal remedies or justice policies that should be considered for inclusion in the government’s approach to combatting online hate.

Consideration of civil remedy to combat online hate

The first purpose of a civil remedy is to restore the injured party to the position they were in before the wrong occurred. Remedies could include injunctions, redress and damages (compensation). Other options could include community service for educational and rehabilitation purposes and/or a fine.

Amending section 319 of the Criminal Code

Currently, subsection 319(6) of the Criminal Code requires the consent of the Attorney General to proceed with a prosecution for the wilful promotion of hatred. This restriction may be a direct cause of the small number of hate crimes prosecutions. Requiring the consent of the Attorney General before proceeding with a prosecution is too high a standard. Attempting to obtain the consent of the Attorney General may also result in delays in bringing offenders to justice.

Adding a peace bond to the Criminal Code

Adding a peace bond would provide an option for victims to seek cease and desist orders themselves through a justice of the peace with support from a community-based agency or advocate.

Other options

  • Third party reporting creates a space for victims to report crime and access support services without having to go to the police. The process would allow a victim to report the crime through a community-based organization, such as a victim-assistance program, which then shares the information anonymously with police.
  • A public health approach is a successful model combining regulation, enforcement and public education to resolve social issues. An example is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which has made it their aim to eliminate impaired driving and its tragic consequences.
  • Online platform service providers require regulation to restrict the proliferation of online hate.

Conclusion

The importance of working to put an end to the proliferation of hate speech online cannot be overstated. The legislation, policies and programs that are put into place to achieve this end should be evaluated on a regular basis to determine whether they are sufficient and effective.

The Ombudsman’s complete submission is available from the OFOVC on request.