The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has finally declared what everyone already knew after the persecution of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant. It ruled Section 13 of the country’s hate-speech law an unconstitutional violation of free speech, especially as applied in the Internet age. The ruling essentially ends the career of Richard Warman, who has been just about the only complainant to invoke Section 13 over the last ten years:
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has ruled that Section 13, Canada’s much maligned human rights hate speech law, is an unconstitutional violation of the Charter right to free expression because of its penalty provisions.
The decision released this morning by Tribunal chair Athanasios Hadjis appears to strip the Canadian Human Rights Commission of its controversial legal mandate to pursue hate on the Internet, which it has strenuously defended against complaints of censorship. …
This criticism about a penal law masquerading as a remedial one echoes that of Richard Moon, a law professor hired by the CHRC last year to provide an expert analysis of their online hate speech mandate. In essence, his advice was that it could not be done fairly, and so should not be done at all.
Ezra Levant, who lost a lot of time and money fighting off spurious Section 13 complaints, noted six months ago that the CHRT had suspended penalties under Section 13, but not investigations and prosecutions. This appears to put an end to all of it. Warman can appeal to the courts, but they may be reluctant to reverse the CHRT’s eviscerating of its own jurisdiction.
Moon had this right all along. When government tells you what you can and cannot say in the political context, then free speech is essentially dead. Section 13 created an enormously intimidating device for anyone who wants to argue their beliefs in the public square in Canada. Even in just a “remedial” mode, it creates an atmosphere where people have to worry whether their speech will create a necessity to seek government approval, and the costs of defending speech become so onerous as to silence people.
The best cure for bad speech is more speech. Governments that have the power to silence speech for its offensiveness have the power to silence dissent. Canada took a big step in the direction of freedom today.