Opponents of Section 13 argue that it is an assault on free speech. They claim that it targets speech that may merely offend those with thin skins. If the target of the law were merely “offensive” statements, we would wholeheartedly agree. But this is not the case. The law aims at expression that causes members of our society to be treated as less worthy than their neighbours merely because of who they are, rather than what they have done. The small number of cases that have made it to the act’s tribunal stage have been among the worst of the worst: hateful, malicious propaganda.
Another argument against Section 13 is that, unlike libel law, truth is no defence. But can it ever be “true” that victims of hate speech deserve hatred and contempt? Should someone be entitled to use a tribunal hearing to “prove” that, say African Canadians are inferior, that Jews are rapacious, or that all gays are pedophiles?
Section 13 tells us that we must find civil ways to prevent bigotry. That is the Canadian way. But if Storseth’s bill is passed, the state will rely exclusively on criminal prosecution to deter those who wilfully engage in promoting hatred. By ridding ourselves of Section 13, we diminish the hope that we can change attitudes through education and dialogue. We may very well unleash the blunt force of the criminal law on those who are guilty of nothing but ignorance.
Just a comment on this last bit. Folks in favour of Storseth's Bill often, perhaps typically, think that removing section 13 will solve their problems. Journalists typically believe that with S13 gone their industry will be free of a bothersome level of regulation, that all they will need to worry about is the possibility of defamation suits brought through the court system.
Haters believe that they shall be able to hate at leisure.
But this is not really so. For example, Frank Dimant, CEO of B'nai Brith Canada, has stated quite clearly that in a post 13 world his organization will shift its efforts to working against hate speech through whatever enhanced criminal code provisions are given to it. Nobody is going to pack up their toys and go home in absence of the provision, in other words. And, as I've said before, there's quite a difference between receiving a letter from a commission bureaucrat and getting a visit from a police officer. I imagine the second is a bit more traumatic than the first.