John Carpay – Western Standard
Online hate is back in the news, with Canada’s Justice Minister Arif Virani promising new legislation to extend government control over what Canadians see, hear and read on the internet. Proposed new laws could be used to impede Canadians’ access to information online.
When first introducing Bill C-36 in 2021, the federal government proposed addressing online harm in five categories: hate speech, terrorist content, incitement to violence, child sexual exploitation and the non- consensual sharing of intimate images.
According to one media report, Justice Minister Virani stated “We need a safe and secure digital environment as much as we need safe streets in our communities.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Chinese Canadian National Council for Justice are reportedly among the groups now calling for online harms legislation.
The willful promotion of hatred (online and everywhere else) is already a criminal offence in Canada, but it seems these groups wish to further empower the state with the ability to control and punish both emerging platforms and established social media providers who fail to block whatever content the government may deem “hateful.”
Hate, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Many if not most Canadians would view Hamas as hateful, yet those who support or endorse its violence would call themselves advocates for justice, claiming Hamas is fighting legitimately against Israeli oppression and illegal occupation.
Criticism of Islam, abortion, Israel, homosexuality, the dominant Indian Residential Schools narrative and a host of other subjects is often denounced as “hateful” in various quarters.
Hate is an emotion that exists in the human heart.
Hate need not be a bad thing provided it is directed against injustice and falsehood.
It is nearly impossible to know with certainty whether a speaker expressing a particular opinion has hate in her heart, or not. In like manner, a speaker cannot know whether her speech will be perceived by others as hateful or not. If some of those who listen to her speech perceive it to be hateful, does that make it so?
Extending further government control over the internet will simply expand the list of groups calling for the state to censor and punish whatever that group deems to be “hateful.”
The list of what could be “hateful” has no end.
Already today, opposition to transgender ideology is routinely denounced as hateful in some quarters.
One can realistically expect numerous political agitators to ask government to crack down on ‘hate’ if new laws empower government to do so.
Atheists who criticize religion; religious conservatives who say that gay sex is sinful; Canadians who disagree with current immigration policies; parents who do not want their children exposed to transgender ideology: all can be targets of ever-expanding censorship, which is a cancer on the free society.
Extending government control over the internet will focus Canadians’ energies on trying to silence those they disagree with, rather than engaging in robust debate that offers opportunities for critical thought and growth in understanding.
Censorship is the hallmark of every repressive regime.
Today’s Communist China and North Korea; fascist Italy, Germany and Spain of the 1930s; today’s theocratic Iran and Saudi Arabia: all these regimes were or are supremely confident of their ability to determine what is true or false, right or wrong, good or evil.
All these governments sought or seek to censor speech they deem to be harmful to the public interest and the common good. Governments never violate citizens’ human rights and constitutional freedoms without providing some pretext: national security, protecting the country from some evil minority, fighting terrorism, fighting communism, fighting fascism, fighting a virus and now fighting online harm.
The right of every Canadian to express her or his opinions, even if subjectively perceived as ‘hateful’ by some listeners, is a pillar of our free and democratic society.
With the willful promotion of hatred online already being a Criminal Code offence, it would be a huge mistake for Canada to take even one small step towards further government regulation of the internet.