Canadian government weighing hate-speech charges against people who boycott Israel

Wonderful news. Not the charges themselves; those are terrible. What’s wonderful is that, hopefully, the more the American left finds its own pet causes targeted as “hate speech” abroad, the less eager they’ll be to encourage an awful European-style hate-speech legal regime at home. They’re going to learn a hard lesson here about what can happen when the state gains the power to criminalize “hate.”

In January, Canada’s then foreign affairs minister, John Baird, signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Israeli authorities in Jerusalem, pledging to combat BDS.

It described the movement as “the new face of anti-Semitism.”…

[I]n response to specific questions about what “zero tolerance” of BDS means, and how it will be enforced, [Public Safety Minister Steven] Blaney aide Josee Sirois gave CBC News a much clearer picture of the government’s intent.

She highlighted what she termed “hate propaganda” provisions in the Criminal Code criminalizing the promotion of hatred against an identifiable group, and further noted that “identifiable group” now includes any section of the public distinguished by “among other characteristics, religion or national or ethnic origin.”

Encouraging a boycott of Saudi-owned businesses because you object to how the Kingdom treats religious minorities would presumably also be criminal “hate” based on national origin. I wonder how Canadian law would treat a boycott of a Christian-owned business organized by gay-rights activists if the proprietor refused to cater a gay wedding. Is the business owner guilty of discrimination or are the boycotters guilty of “hate” based on religion, another “identifiable group” protected by Canadian law? Or both?

First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh, whom you may have caught last week on Fox News explaining to Megyn Kelly’s viewers that there’s no “hate speech” exception to the right of free speech, gives the Harper administration two thumbs down:

I think a good deal of the Boycott/Divest/Sanction movement, which attempts to hold Israel to standards that are not applied to pretty much any other country, is indeed driven by anti-Semitism. But so what? In a free country, people should be free to (at least) criticize foreign countries, and call for an end to relations (political and economic) with those countries, without being second-guessed about their motives, and without risking punishment because the government concludes that their motives are bad. Indeed, people should be free to spread “hate” towards that country, if they think the country merits hatred.

I think this is so even as to speech that is outright racist, anti-Semitic, and so on. But it is even more clearly true as to speech that, on its face, harshly criticizes a foreign government and the country that it governs. How can public debate about the policies of one’s own country, and of powerful institutions within one’s own country — a debate that is the essence of democratic self-government — effectively continue if one side is threatened with punishment for expressing its positions?

What’s odd about this is that Canada’s actually made some progress towards freeing free speech over the past few years. In 2013, the notorious provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act that allowed private parties to file federal complaints against writers like Mark Steyn for “hate speech,” with no presumption of innocence, was finally dumped by the Canadian parliament. The obvious next step is to further reduce the state’s power to harass people for political advocacy by eliminating hate-speech prosecutions altogether. Instead the Harper government’s evidently decided, or in the process of deciding, that there are some hard left causes that would benefit from state “correction” as much as mainstream right ones would. The Canadian right will reject that theory. Won’t they?