The Trudeau government is proposing legal changes intended to curb online hate speech and make it easier for the victims of hate speech to launch complaints.
The proposed Bill C-36 includes an addition to the Canadian Human Rights Act that the government says will clarify the definition of online hate speech and list it as a form of discrimination.
“These changes are designed to target the most egregious and clear forms of hate speech that can lead to discrimination and violence,” said Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti at a Wednesday evening news conference.
“They do not target simple expressions of dislike or disdain that pepper everyday discourse, especially online.”
The amended act will define hate speech as “content that expresses detestation or vilification of a person or group,” including over the internet.
The new definition is said not to include offensive language more broadly. It also excludes content that hurts, humiliates or expresses dislike or disdain. Private communications are also exempt.
WATCH: Minister of Justice David Lametti speaks about Ottawa’s latest attempt to combat online hate speech
Lametti referenced the deadly truck attack in London, Ont. as an example of the violence possible as a result of online hate.
The proposed changes would be included in a revived Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. A previous version of section 13 about online hate speech was repealed by the Stephen Harper government in 2013.
People found responsible will be ordered to remove content
The changes are also designed to streamline the complaint process for people who are targeted by online hate speech.
Complainants would be able to file complaints against individuals who publish hate speech online and the operators of web sites.
But notably, the bill would not introduce any new penalties or responsibilities for social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. Ottawa says the social media giants will be governed by separate but still undetermined legislation that will more specifically target hate speech on those platforms.
Violations of the updated human rights act, which will be determined by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, would not be classified as criminal offences.
People found responsible for online hate speech will be ordered to stop expressing hate speech, remove what has been posted and to “ensure that it is not communicated again.”
In cases in which the hate speech specifically identifies a victim, the person responsible could be ordered to pay the victim up to $20,000.
A person who refuses to stop expressing hate speech could also be ordered to pay a fine of up to $50,000.
Changes to criminal code carry harsher penalties
Bill C-36 includes accompanying changes to Canada’s criminal code that will also update the definition of hatred, once again using the language of “detestation or vilification” proposed for the Canadian Human Rights Act.
It also proposes the creation of a new type of peace bond.
A person who fears they could be the target of a hate crime could apply for the bond as a way of deterring a person from committing a hate crime.
A breach of such a bond would carry a more significant penalty of up to four years in prison, consistent with the penalty for violations of other peace bonds.