OTTAWA (CCN)—Several presenters to the House of Commons Justice Committee’s hearings on combating online hate have warned against unfairly targeting unpopular Christian and conservative opinion.
“Ultimately free speech is hate speech, and hate speech is free speech,” bestselling author and radio and TV personality Mark Steyn told the committee June 4. “Free speech is for speech you revile. The alternative to free speech is approved speech.”
The question becomes “approved by whom,” Steyn told the committee. “Once it becomes speech approved by the state, approved by formal bodies, it becomes speech approved by the powerful.”
The biggest threat to free speech is “the malign alliance between government and high-tech,” warned Steyn. He described as chilling a recent meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participated in with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May sitting opposite the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple – “six woke billionaires” who “regulate the opinion” of billions of people.
“This is far more of a threat than some “pimply-faced neo-Nazi” writing on the Internet “from his mother’s basement in the prairies,” said Steyn, who faced hate speech complaints under Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2007 and under similar legislation in two provinces for articles he wrote for Maclean’s magazine about Islam. Steyn and the magazine won, but their legal costs were well over $1 million and $100,000 for Steyn personally. A Conservative private member’s bill repealed Section 13 in 2013 under the Harper government.
Many witnesses testifying before the committee since hearings on online hate began in April said they would like to see Section 13 reinstated. Dubbed the “thought crimes” provision, it made an act of discrimination any communication “likely to expose” a person or persons to “hatred or contempt” for their being a member of an identifiable protected group. Truth was not a defence under the section, which was opposed by the Catholic Civil Rights League among other groups.
Steyn noted some people argue against Jordan Peterson being allowed to appear before the committee, as well as former Wilfred Laurier University graduate student Lindsay Shepherd, who appeared as a witness June 4 beside Steyn.
Writer, documentary maker and columnist John Robson also testified, warning policing free speech might “remove the rattle” of the snake, but not the venom, and would merely force hateful ideas underground where they cannot be challenged with truth.
Shepherd testified she had been suspended from Twitter for commenting truthfully but negatively about a transgender individual’s behaviour. To be de-platformed from today’s social media, she argued, is to be removed from the public square.
The final witness June 4 was Colin McKay of Google Canada. The committee then turned to preparing its report, to be tabled before the House of Commons rises for the summer break.
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