The amendments would make it easier for Canada to monitor its citizens abroad and to share information with other countries’ spy agencies, particularly the U.S. National Security Agency, which runs a vastly larger and more sophisticated intelligence-gathering apparatus than its counterpart to the north. The proposals have been hotly debated in Canada for the past week, and passage isn’t a foregone conclusion. But the shooting may have given Harper’s conservative government, which holds a majority of seats in parliament, the final push it needs to get them turned into law.
ICMLG also notes another troubling piece of legislation that mirrors the restriction of free speech online, according to the NP:
“Sources suggest the government is likely to bring in new hate speech legislation that would make it illegal to claim terrorist acts are justified online.”
This, ironically, from a government that bowed to pressure from an assortment of media free-speech advocates, white supremacists, and social conservatives to repeal what we now know to be legal protections in section 13 in the Canadian Human Rights Act because it was said to violate free speech.
Section 13 CHRA, it might be recalled, prohibited speech that incites hate against groups of people based on race, religion and other grounds. The provision was repealed because of complaints arising from a series of articles in Maclean’s and elsewhere, describing Muslims as predatory, bloodthirsty, and prone to pedophilia and bestiality. Online articles and posts by conservative pundits allegedly generated online comments that included calls for genocide.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s response to a parallel challenge to Saskatchewan’s hate speech laws was that hate speech is discriminatory and restraints on it are constitutional (Whatcott, 2013).
But that was not enough to save the hate speech protections in federal human rights law. The government went ahead and repealed section 13, Supreme Court be damned.
Now we have the same government willing to restrict free speech in the name of “terrorism”. There are already criminal sanctions against conspiracies to commit crimes, a raft of anti-terrorism provisions, and prohibitions on uttering threats, to name a few.
It will be very interesting to see if and to what extent the editorial pages and the same coalition of conservative pundits will rally to protect free speech this time.
And, more important, why exactly, are these new powers needed?