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Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression Listens to B’nai Brith Canada

An image from the Public Policy Forum website
Feb. 1, 2021
OTTAWA – A new report from the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression captures key points from a submission by B’nai Brith Canada.
B’nai Brith Canada’s submission to the Commission – one of fourteen from interested civil society organizations – focused on the harm to the Jewish community and Canadians generally of online antisemitic hate speech. It emphasized that to be both principled and effective, any laws and policies standing against incitement to hatred have to balance the right to freedom of expression with the right to freedom from incitement to hatred and discrimination.
In light of the steep growth in social and democratic harms online, the Public Policy Forum established the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression to study and provide informed advice on how to reduce harmful speech on the internet without impairing free speech.
B’nai Brith Canada’s contribution to the Commission reflected key points about online antisemitic hate speech first conveyed to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in April, 2019. Additional recommendations were reflected in consultations with the Department of Justice in August, 2020.
Among the key points in B’nai Brith Canada’s advocacy, the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression has now directly or indirectly addressed:
  • The need to focus on hate content, before it transforms into terrorist and violent extremist material; how online hate, countered at an early stage, can help forestall radicalization to violence.
  • Ensuring channels for individual action directed to major internet providers to facilitate the rapid takedown of hate content online.
  • Shifting the onus for action from providers to an expert, government-appointed body, or an independent regulator that has no financial interest in maximizing traffic on any particular channel.
  • Considering creation of a forum similar to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, to convene social media companies, civil society, and other stakeholders to develop and implement codes of conduct to address harmful speech.
  • Possibly reviving the spirit of the previous Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act to have a civil tool to combat online hate speech, avoiding an undue limitation on freedom of expression, where easy access could lead to the harassment of legitimate expression.
  • Encouraging enhanced industry support for counter speech initiatives, including fostering, aggregating and promoting positive messages responding to offensive content.
  • Applying existing resources available under Canada’s Digital Charter and the federal Anti-Racism Strategy to promote greater awareness of the dangers of online antisemitism and how to counter them.
”We welcome the attention paid by the Commission’s to several of our key recommendations, particularly on the need to shift the onus for action from providers to a government regulator, on creation of a broadly-based consultation mechanism, and on the right of individual redress,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. ”These are among important points we have been making over several years.
“But action cannot be left to governments, platforms and content providers. We need to foster public debate and education so Canadians understand the challenges and the role they play in countering online hate – including disinformation. In this, the Commission has made an important contribution. It is the reason why B’nai Brith Canada is so engaged.”
“The Commission notes our position on reviving the spirit of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. We welcome this and the endorsement of further discussion,” said Brian Herman, Bnai Brith Canada’s Director of Government Relations. “Our principal emphasis has been consistent – freedom of religion is closely linked to the right to freedom from incitement to hatred. In balancing off these two rights, the right to freedom from incitement to hatred, including hate based on antisemitism, must have no less standing than the right to freedom of expression.”
The complete text of B’nai Brith Canada’s submission to the Commission can be found here.