OTTAWA (CCN)—Presenters to the Justice Committee’s hearings on combating online hatred have warned against unfairly targeting unpopular Christian and conservative opinion.

“The reality is that crying hate has become one of the favorite tools in some circles to prevent dialogue and discredit disagreement,” Jay Cameron, legal counsel to the Justice Centre for Constitution Freedoms, told the Justice Committee. “You disagree with my religion, that’s hate. You disagree with my politics, that’s hate. You disagree with my gender identity, that’s hate. Do you have concerns about immigration and the resources and security? That’s hate.”

On May 28 the Justice Committee wrapped up hearings that began in April. It is expected to report on its findings before the House of Commons rises for its summer break. The report will be drafted in the wake of the Trudeau government’s adoption of a Digital Charter May 21 that laid out principles likely to guide the final report.

“Social media platforms must be held accountable for the hate speech & disinformation we see online – and if they don’t step up, there will be consequences,” said Prime Minister Trudeau on Twitter May 21. “We launched Canada’s new Digital Charter today to guide our decisions.”

The 10-point charter includes both a defence of freedom of expression and protections against online threats and disinformation.

“Canadians can expect that digital platforms will not foster or disseminate hate, violent extremism or criminal content,” and “There will be clear, meaningful penalties for violations of the laws and regulations that support these principles,” the charter says.

Most of the presenters from a range of religious and secular organizations told the committee they want to see tougher sanctions on online hate, including bringing back Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act that made any expression likely to subject a group to contempt or hatred subject to massive penalties.

But a handful of voices warned against heavy-handed measures.

Cameron cited the case of an esthetician who faced a human rights complaint for refusing to provide waxing to a transgender person who presented as a woman but had male genitalia. That, as well as peacefully expressing one’s abortion views on a university campus, are considered “hate,” he said.

Cameron also warned against social media censoring of unpopular opinion, citing how Twitter took down the account of the movie Unplanned, the story of former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson, and deleted hundreds of thousands of the movie’s followers.

He pointed out Facebook is not removing hate but simply content it disagrees with. “Because they have the power and little oversight, they do whatever they want.”
 Canada’s former Ambassador of Religious Freedom, Father Deacon Andrew Bennett, who is now director of the Cardus Religious Freedom Institute, told the committee government must step in to “recognize genuine hatred in which the dignity of the human person is grossly debased and physical violence is promoted,” while at the same time “defending and upholding genuine freedom of expression where such expression does not advocate or incite violent acts.”

Father Deacon Bennett said society must distinguish between “genuine hatred and those beliefs and opinions with which we profoundly disagree but which are expressed by our fellow Canadians in good faith and without any intent to violently target a particular group.”

Robert Dennis, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, told the committee Christians, particularly Catholics who believe the Church’s teachings, are in need of protection from online hate.

“I would like to underscore that the health of a liberal democracy is predicated upon the ability of people of goodwill to disagree about fundamental questions,” Dennis said.