Technology & Science

Internet hate-speech law unconstitutional: rights commission

A provision in the Human Rights Act that bans hate speech on the internet is unconstitutional, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

A provision in the Human Rights Act that bans hate speech on the internet is unconstitutional, according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

In a decision released Wednesday, the commission's tribunal dismissed a complaint filed against Marc Lemire, a webmaster who runs freedomsite.org, a site that bills itself as "Canada's freedom resource center."

The complaint, which alleged that messages posted on the site were discriminatory and exposed minority groups to "hatred and contempt," was filed by Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman.

In rejecting the complaint, commissioner vice-chair Athanasios Hadjis ruled that Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedom, "which guarantees the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression."

Hadjis said that it is not within the commission's ability to change the rules — that must be done by the courts — so he refused to impose penalties on Lemire or order him to take down his website.

Section 13 of the Act, which prevents the spread of "any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt" through telecommunications systems, originated in the 1960s to prevent racist phone hotlines and was extended by default to include the internet.

Warman had asked the tribunal for a cease-and-desist order against Lemire, and a $7,500 fine. Warman accused Lemire of posting anti-Semitic and anti-gay material on the web.

Conservative commentators called the decision a victory for free speech while other groups, including the Canadian Jewish Congree, called for a quick appeal.