A man holds up a giant pencil during a march in Brussels on Jan. 11 2015 for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris. Charlie Hebdo staff were killed by extremists who objected to their portrayal of Islam. (REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

Hate speech or freedom of expression? (interview)

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Even as Canada’s Prime Minister is in Paris to join the Christchurch Call to curb the spread of violent and extremist behaviour, a government committee in Ottawa is studying hate speech in Canada.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights held a session today to discuss online hate with a view to creating or modifying legislation to deal with it.

Jay Cameron (LLB) testified before the committee today in Ottawa, expressing concern about the line between legitimate disagreement versus actual hate speech. He is litigation manager for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Rights, an advocacy organisation specialising in constitutional issues and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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Under Canada’s current hate speech laws it is a crime to make “statements in any public place [which] incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.”

Jay Cameron, litigation manager, Justice Centre for Constitutional Rights, (JCCF)

With the rise of the internet and social media, the definition of “public space” has also grown.

Cameron says there has been a rise in recent years in the charge of “hate speech” to quell a disagreement or opposing opinion.

The Justice Centre previously appeared before the committee during discussion on a Parliamentary motion to condemn “Islamophobia” stating in written testimony , “The refusal of the Standing Committee to bring certainty to the debate and define what it meant by “Islamophobia”, lends itself to increased suspicion from Canadians about the true intentions of this government”.

Renowned Canadian psychology professor and author Jordan Peterson in 2016 attempting to discuss free speech and forced use of gender neutral pronouns while a noisy group of protesters attempt to drown him out. Claiming hate speech, objectors regularly demand his speaking engagements cancelled and if not, then disrupt them. (Youtube screengrab)

In a media release today, Jay Cameron commented, ““Much of what critics hate and decry as “hate” is simply disagreement.  And it is not only legal to disagree with ideology and religion and people’s pet theories in Canada, it is constitutionally protected. In that sense, Parliament must be wary not to create laws which echo  the blasphemy laws enacted in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia, which censure disagreement regarding religious dogma,”

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