Defining Hate Speech across Canada


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The discussion of the discernment between free speech and hate speech is a difficult one, with an especially prominent place on the Wilfrid Laurier campus in recent weeks.

There are enormous discrepancies between the types of speech deemed appropriate, and they are all subjectively organized to reflect their own community and their own community’s standards.

It is that discernment that is at the very heart of the now national conversation, because there tends to be a much more common agreement that, once it crosses into the territory of hate speech, there actually are enforceable measures that can and perhaps should be taken to criminalize the expressions of certain ideas.

“The criminal code already makes clear how hate speech limits the constitutional rights to freedom of expression,” Michael Kennedy, the director of communications and development at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), said.

“And the reality is that it’s a very difficult judicial test to determine speech that is actually lawfully considered hate speech; it’s a very, very narrow definition. It essentially requires you to be advocating for genocide. And it’s only been applied in the courts a handful of times since the charter, so it’s a very, very narrow definition of what hate speech actually is.”

Operating out of Alberta, the JCCF is a national organization that offers both pro-bono legal service as well as education on constitutional freedoms — especially related to free speech — through the Campus Freedom Index. But its very existence also evidences the national ripple that the controversy on this campus has carried throughout this entire nation: the JCCF had even sent a letter to the university advocating for Shepherd, inserting themselves into the discussion and provoking a bigger conversation, a day prior to the apology being released.

“Universities don’t need to be legislating about hate speech because they’re part of the country,” Kennedy continued. “And the country already has laws about hate speech.”

“And they already have constitutional determinations about where the line is drawn between freedom of expression and hate speech. So universities don’t need to reinvent the wheel, student unions don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

“And, more importantly, for them to go further than the courts have already determined is the appropriate limitation on free speech, that’s really a problem because these are public intuitions. They are receiving a huge portion of their operational funding from governments in many cases and tax payers are on the line when these universities are not abiding by the limitations that are already in place by the criminal code.”

There is a difficult line to determine, and the issue is that that line must be drawn somewhere and by someone. If hate speech is so difficult to define that it almost never qualifies in legal situations, is that a positive thing, or do the details of hate speech need to be re-examined and restructured for the modern world?

In order to have a better understanding of a figure who has culturally been more or less silenced, I reached out to Ricardo Duchesne, a professor at the University of New Brunswick, founder of the national organization ‘Council of European Canadians’, and the author of several books.

The latest of his works is a volume where even the title summarizes his controversial position: Canada in Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of Euro-Canadians.

“I am possibly, I think, the only professor, academic, in Canada who is a dissenter on the issue of mass immigration,” Duchesne said. “Jordan Peterson doesn’t touch that subject. It is the most controversial subject, it is the one that is most prohibited in academia.”

It would be difficult to fairly summarize his book and his philosophy in just a few sentences, but it is fundamentally based on the idea that multiculturalism and diversity are not inherently positive and are therefore not the goals that society should be working toward.

This idea is not presented within this article as a form of advocacy, nor is it presented as a form of dissent. Instead, the base of his idea is reflected here to address a trend on the limits of dissenting thought within culture.

Limiting free speech to only that which the hegemony decrees is acceptable is damaging to culture as a whole and provokes an enormous, justified, incendiary response. But not recognizing the implications of one’s own free speech, and where it even tangentially borders on the cultural idea of hate speech, can also be extremely damaging.

Whether or not Duchesne is right in the ideas that he expresses is hardly an analogous conversation to the free-speech issues across campus. He claims that his own statements, even though they at least appear more contentious, have been silenced in a similar manner.

But neither Kennedy’s legalistic description, nor Duchesne’s own perception of hate speech genuinely limit his ideas. And because of that, legally, they do not come into play in these particular situations.

“I think if you really go after a particular ethnic group or race and you seek to demean them,” Duchesne said, explaining what he believes hate speech to be. “You seek to speak in very bad language about who they are, you wish to exclude them and not believe that they have the same rights as any other groups. So I am very consistent with my belief that all ethnic groups should have the same rights in Canada.”

“I’m simply asking for a debate on the issue of mass immigration and diversity. I’m asking why it is that, in the media, it’s not allowed. It’s just not even a debate as to why do we have to bring in every year to Canada — at this point we are bringing in something like 320, 340 hundred thousand people here — and everybody’s saying ‘this is great, it’s going to make us better’ and if you say ‘well, no, I don’t think it’s going to make Canada better’ they immediately use a label.”

“So that really is the bottom line of what I am saying. It’s not an attack on immigrations, if anything it’s an attack on the privileged white who control the narrative in Canada.”

This is a difficult claim, because the fact is that some ideas are better than others. Duchesne claimed that he has been interviewed by the Walrus magazine and CBC, but that both decided not to publish the content — he believes that this is because he is a reasonable and persuasive person presenting unpalatable ideas.

Of course, that is a subjective account that could very well be true, but there is also the fact that the press has a responsibility: surely, a great deal of what those media organizations could gather on Duchesne may have been smart, influential content.

But, as Duchesne himself stated, he is the only academic in Canada dissenting on mass immigration.

That could be because he is the only one brave enough to take a stand against the larger cultural narrative, but it might also be because the opposing stance in favour of immigration has far more proponents with far better ideas. It is the responsibility of the press not to give a platform to someone just because they don’t have one; it is the responsibility of the press to attempt to find the truth in the world.

But that, too, is trying to construct a subjective narrative around facts. And that is where it becomes muddled and difficult. Because in the age of deconstruction, so many things can tangentially be modified to inhabit far more incendiary claims and beliefs than are actually contained within the original statement.

And these subjective assessments are what people are being attacked for, and these subjective assessments are what are causing considerable, reasonable debate across campuses.

So is any of it actually hate speech, or is that word being thrown around inappropriately?

Duchesne claims that people have tried to label his ideas as ‘hate speech’.

“Yes, they have tried. They never find anything that really can be classified that way, they have tried. Or they call me racist, bigoted, all kinds of things. But once they start exchanging ideas with me they find it very hard to look at exactly what it is that I’m saying that is racist … so their position now is just simply ignore it, just pretend he doesn’t exist.”

If one positive thing can be gained from this situation on the Wilfrid Laurier campus, it is in the created opportunity to reinterpret legalities and unify toward whatever ends the collective deems necessary.

“If anything, you’ll have a positive effect,” Duchesne said. “But I don’t think that anytime soon the monopoly that the left have over academia is going to break. They have a very, very tight control, and the control extends all the way from the academics to the top, the administration.”

“They are all in agreement about this leftist worldview. The academics, you know, they bicker a little bit with the administrators — sometimes it’s mostly about money and things like that — but ideologically, they’re identical.”

As the Waterloo Regional Police defines Public Incitement of Hatred, by their website, “This offence is also committed when someone communicates statements, other than in a private conversation, that willfully promote hatred against any identifiable group.”

Again, this is, in itself, a difficult idea to tease out, because it suggests the verification of intent within statements and judges on that basis — a much more difficult legal situation that doesn’t have much of a real, verifiable status.

There are ideas that a culture can and should find unacceptable, but the fact is that so many of those ideas are not rooted in hatred or the pursuit of violence, even if they — in practice — are executed in that way toward a particular end and against a particular group.

Limiting free speech to only that which the hegemony decrees is acceptable is damaging to culture as a whole and provokes an enormous, justified, incendiary response. But not recognizing the implications of one’s own free speech, and where it even tangentially borders on the cultural idea of hate speech, can also be extremely damaging.

It is only through cooperation and empathy — and that is a two way street, because far too much of the response to the Rainbow Centre at Laurier claiming that trans students deserve an apology has been met with distaste and disdain — that we can collectively recognize the merits and demerits in one another’s ideas, and therefore exchange and understand them accordingly.

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