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Free Speech and Hate Crimes in Canada:An Analysis of Freedom Versus Consequence

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This paper explores the topics of free speech and hate crime within the nation of Canada. Using the information provided by academic journals, periodicals and online, both opinions provided by the authors of said pieces and hard data, this paper goes into the details of the parallels and contrasting ideals between freedom of expression for Canadian Citizens and the rights of members of marginalized groups to receive judicial support when they are victimized by individuals who are motivated by bigotry. Free Speech is legally outlined by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom Act and the language within dictates judicial procedure in regards to the rights of the citizens it represents to express themselves whether verbally, through literature or artistic expression. Culture is influenced by the media, both international and homegrown, and standards are placed on pop-culture in an attempt to protect national identity. The advent of the digital age has complicated what is acceptable in terms of free speech and how law enforcement is able and willing to intervene should a legal line be crossed. The hard data is explored using statistics and recorded incidents. This paper factors these varying influences and how they contribute to the concepts of free speech and hate crimes in Canada.

Free Speech as Protected by Canadian Legislation
Since the passage of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom Act in 1982, the umbrella of free speech has expanded beyond expression of political affairs. According to Kent Greenwalt Canada’s policies regarding free speech are the result of many international influences and take an expansive approach. In his article Free Speech in the United States and Canada: Law and Contemporary Problems, he calls into question how the law protects individuals vocalizing their intention to commit a crime or attempting to entice others into criminal behavior. He states ” If the courts engage in the genuine review Section 1 is said to require, they must end up saying that in respect to some acts that are properly crimes, the government cannot punish agreements, offers, counseling, or perhaps even participation that involves only utterances” (p. 14).

From this, one can presume a broad protection of potentially harmful statements under the charter. However, a quirk of Canadian law decided in the case of Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor  “involved a civil provision, section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prohibits telephonicaly communicating information likely to expose a person or group to hatred or contempt on the basis of, inter alia, race or religion” (Greenwalt, p. 20). However, Greenwalt  cites a potential flaw in this broadly written legislation. He states that disagreements he deems “legitimate” may be perceived as unlawful by offering up the following hypothetical situation:

Suppose, for example, that right wing members of the South African Dutch Reformed Church moved to Canada and preached that colored peoples of various sorts are inferior to whites and that apartheid should be established in Canada. A citizen telephones neighbors and warns them against this hateful religion then being established in their own town. Saying the doctrines are hateful is likely to expose members and the group to hatred or contempt, so it seems the citizen would have violated the provision which recognizes no defense for honest religious disagreement (or any disagreement, religious or otherwise). (p. 20)

The vague nature of the law, as written, could be perceived as lacking the specificity necessary for actual enforcement or, as stated previously, could potentially be utilized to actually work against individuals expressing opposition to hate speech.

As the basis for the operations for a society, the law dictates what is allowed to prevail without federal repercussions and, as a result, how the citizens of a nation are allowed to behave. One could draw a parallel between the legal acceptance of hate speech evolving into the commitment of hate crimes. The question lawmakers are left with is where to draw the line and when and where is the responsibility of the government to intervene before the act of a hate crime without infringing on it’s citizen’s right to free speech?

Free Speech in Pop Culture and International Influences
As an expansive nation divided between two groups of language speakers and many more ethnic groups, there has been a push to unify the diverse citizens of Canada and establish a more distinct national identity. Many individuals seek to do so by limiting the cultural influence of the United States. In Free Speech and the Visage Culture: Canadian and American Perspectives on Pop Culture Discrimination, Ian Slotin stated the following:
A 1995 survey reported that 72% of Canadians thought that strengthening Canadian culture could facilitate national reconciliation between Quebec and Anglophone culture. Most believed that protecting Canadian culture from U.S. influences and preserving a sense of cultural distinctions from the United States were the most important ways the government could strengthen Canadian culture. (p.2297)

As a result, Canada has taken measures to ensure that a pre-determined proportion of media produced by national sources and consumed by it’s citizens is the product of Canadian cultures. The attempts to do so have included raised tariffs on articles and publications imported from the U.S. and regulations regarded the percentage of media broadcast and produced from external sources. However, as Canada is the primary source of foreign income for American mass media markets, the producers of the product have striven to work their way around regulations via loopholes and business acumen.
This is to say that Canadian citizens are not free of pop cultural influences from their neighbors to the South despite national sentiment to the contrary as stated by Sean Hier in The Contemporary Structure of Canadian Racial Supremacism: Networks, Stategies and New Technologies. Heir states that  “Organized racial supremacism is often dismissed as an American, and less commonly, a European phenomenon” (p. 473). Hier furthers his argument by positing that a general lack of awareness or ambivalence regarding racism and jingoism in the Nation of Canada allows for the growth of racial supremacist groups.

The dynamic is complicated by the fact that in an attempt to create a more authentically “Canadian” sense of culture, these laws may cultivate a further isolationist sensibility as Hier points out that many of the nations hate groups are founded on the principle that immigration and outside influence is ultimately harmful to the well-being of the nation such as The Canadian Association for Free Expression, Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform and The Canadian Free Speech League.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]

Advanced Technology and Networking in Relation to Racial Supremacy
Despite the aforementioned ruling of Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor wherein discriminatory speech cannot be spread telephonicaly, there is no such ruling regarding the spread of hate speech via online networks. This could be reflective of both how the law is outdated and the inherent difficulty of enforcing any such law regarding online communication. Indeed, enforcing laws perceived within society as more drastic than the need to eliminate hate speech are considered difficult. Though there have been sales of illegally obtain credit card and social security numbers and even human trafficking, certain criminals have been difficult to track down due to the anonymity of criminals who conduct business online. This is to say that seeking out the source of hate speech online would theoretically prove even more difficult.

However, it is asserted that the distribution of racial supremacist  ideals and the ensuing acquisition of members to the groups that hold these ideals is done via the fast growing technology of the internet. “The contemporary structure of Canadian racial supremacist necessitates  a direct and explicit focus on, and conceptualization of, racial supremacist “networks” rather than an assessment of various individuals and organizations that embrace some degree of racial supremacy”(477).

Based on the fast developing online presence of hate groups and the ease at which they conduct their purpose without interference from the law, one could surmise that the still “Wild West”nature of the internet could contribute to a hidden, but certainly present sentiment of which the standard citizen of the nation is not aware. Much like a hobbyist of a rare pastime finds an encouraging community offering support, an individual harboring racial bigotry living within a community that finds such sentiments repugnant may find others to reassure him/her in the validity of their perspective.

In a speculative scenario, this is not limited to reassurance in sentiments whether private or vocalized. Should the individual wish to extend their sentiments into action, the encouraging community could theoretically provide not only encouragement and specialized insight to the commitment of hate crimes. Where an individual wishing to act on racial bigotry is originally limited by a lack a knowledge or skillfulness, they could gain such expertise with the vast resources of information provided by the internet. The handling and acquisition of weapons,  the construction of and detonation of explosives, and even the legal acumen to potentially avoid prosecution if suspected of the crime are but a few of the potentially helpful skills to an individual wishing to carry out a hate crime

Hate Crimes in Canada
Though Canada’s website maintained specifically for reporting statistics states that hate motived crimes decreased by an entire 17% within just the year taking place between 2012 and 2013 and that the majority of crimes reported were non-violent “mischief”, William O’Grady posits that Canada’s legal system lacks comprehensive data and record-keeping regarding the rate of hate crimes committed within the country. The site itself hints at this stating the following:
It is important to note that the measurement of hate crimes in Canada, as reported by police, has been evolving over the past two decades and is continuing to evolve. Analysis of police-reported hate crimes over time and for specific jurisdictions and motivations shows that the reporting of hate crimes is sensitive to changes to reporting practices, which may be influenced by a variety of factors, including the introduction of police hate crime initiatives and public awareness campaigns (Allen, 2015).
O’Grady goes on to cite memorable instances of hate related incidents that had taken place in the nations past particularly regarding anti-Semitic sentiments during the influx of Jewish Immigration during the 1930’s, possibly referencing a long standing anti-Semitic culture undertone within the nation’s non-Jewish residents. If so, the data presented would support this notion. See chart:

Figure 1: Graph Depicting Number of Police-Reported Hate Crimes Motivated by Religion
Similar apprehensions are hinted at in other sources. Among the “radical right wing” groups with thriving online communities given by Hier, many of them are primarily motivated by anti-Semitic beliefs.[“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]

The data shows that the majority (87%) of police reported hate crimes were committed within cities. This is reflected by the higher rates committed within Canada’s more densely populated areas. See chart:

This could credited to the fact that a higher percentage of ethnic minorities live within Canada’s metropolitan areas, as statistics also indicate that slightly over half the reported hate crimes were racially motivated (the majority of the targets of these crimes being black), coupled with the fact that the denser population naturally leads to a higher crime rate in general. Also of interest is the fact that the average age of victims was raised to older individuals than previous years and the amount of minors (aged 17 and under) accused as perpetrators of hate crime decreased. This data would imply that interaction in the vein is taking place between aging populations on both sides of the equation.[Click Essay Writer to order your essay]

Conclusions and Future Study
The effect the legal freedom of expression has within the culture and legal system of Canada on the overall rate of hate crimes is difficult to determine. To garner a more straightforward understanding, alterations could be made as suggested by critics of the system. Greenwalt appeals for more specific language regarding free speech within Canadian charters. O’Grady points out a lack of comprehensive data and methods for retrieving said data. Application of both these suggestions would provide further research on the subject.

Works Cited

Allen, M. (2015). Police-reported hate crime in Canada, 2013.

Greenawalt, K. (1992). Free Speech in the United States and Canada. Law and Contemporary      Problems, 55(1), 5-33. doi:10.2307/1191755

Hier, S. (2000). The Contemporary Structure of Canadian Racial Supremacism: Networks, Strategies      and New Technologies. The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens De   Sociologie, 25(4), 471-494. doi:10.2307/3341609

O’Grady, W. (2011). Crime In Canadian Context: debates and controversies. Oxford University Press.
Slotin, I. (2002). Free Speech and the Visage Culturel: Canadian and American Perspectives on Pop  Culture Discrimination. The Yale Law Journal, 111(8), 2289-2319. doi:10.2307/797647

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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