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  • Writer's pictureAvi Abraham Benlolo

How Canada can Counter online Hate

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

It's time for Canada to reassert itself against online hate. The first step would be to restore Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Avi Benlolo  •  Special to Montreal Gazette Publishing date: Sep 08, 2020

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects us from many of the tyrannies inflicted by despotic regimes elsewhere in the world. But it does not protect against the promotion to the spread of hate and intolerance on the internet and social networking sites. The internet has no borders, no laws and no regulation, and now threatens our peaceful way of life.

Canadians pride themselves on tolerance and respect for diversity, a running platform for most of our political parties. For example, in his acceptance speech for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership, Erin O’Toole eloquently made a point of wanting to broaden the tent from coast to coast. He said, “I believe whether you are Black, white, brown, or from any race or creed, whether you are LGBT or straight, whether you are an Indigenous Canadian, you are an important part of Canada.” So for the most part, we cherish inclusivity as a hallmark of our human rights values. But we have failed when it comes to regulating hate online. Our inability to act upon hate speech on internet platforms was a focus point of a 2018 parliamentary commission (in which I testified) that sought community advice. Nothing special happened after that.

Since then, things have gotten worse. Just a few weeks ago, a global uproar ensued against postings on the TikTok app in which teenagers dressed up like concentration camp prisoners, in what many called Holocaust-pornography. Given the uproar, the app released a new hate speech policy and said it had removed an astonishing number of videos (380,000) in the United States and banned 1,300 accounts and removed 64,000 hateful comments. Twitter and Facebook have also moved to produce regulation and policy with regard to hatred emanating on their platform. This is all a good start.

But much of this social change has been driven by public user advocacy, like a 48-hour walkout campaign on Twitter last month called “#nosafespaceforjewhatred”.  A number of British politicians, celebrities, high profile leaders and members signed off of Twitter for two days — forcing the platform to take action. Twitter says it may block “Content that promotes violence against, threatens or harasses other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease.”

Canada has significant hate speech laws, however, in 2013, it shockingly dropped Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the so called “hate speech provision.”  The law held that “communication of hate messages by telephone or on the internet” could be brought to the federal Human Rights Commission.

The section was effective against neo-Nazi websites and provided a way to challenge internet service providers hosting hate sites. Now, the situation has become intolerable, as public protests mount and people feel violated and bullied by the vile language and images they see online. They say the internet is fast becoming a tool for the wicked and those who wish to exploit impressionable minds.

It’s time for Canada to take control of the situation, to reassert itself against online hate. The first step would be to restore Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The next step would be to penalize service providers with heavy fines (like France does) if they do not remove hate speech. Finally, Canada must set up an office (like the CRTC) to monitor the internet, take complaints, act upon them and educate the public.

Our human right to live free of online hate and intolerance must be acted on immediately. Canada must continue being a beacon of light and hope for all peoples by championing humanity and standing up for dignity and compassion online and in the real world. Because we are Canadian.

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