Thursday 3 September 2009

Just how far can one’s opinion go before it is classed as being hateful?

Marc Lemire has a website in which he expresses his opinions about various subjects, just as I do. However, several years ago, he posted on his website, an article titled “AIDS Secrets” in which he blamed the HIV epidemic on the rise of what he referred to as the "the sick and sleazy pleasure houses of the liberated homosexuals.”

Ottawa-based lawyer, Richard Warman complained to the Canadian Human Rights Commission that postings hosted on the Lemire's website were allegedly discriminatory and would likely expose identifiable and minority groups to ‘hatred or contempt’ which is key language under Section 13 of the law. Mr. Warman further said. “There is no unlimited right to speech. The fact is, this was a hate website and it attracted hate.”

That’s interesting. Suppose the site wasn’t a hate site. Would that mean then that what Lemire wrote would not be hateful?

In response to Warman’s complaint, Lemire challenged the Canadian Human Rights Act itself and more specifically, Section 13 of the Act which states;

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Section 13(2) extends this provision to communications made on the Internet.

Section 13 of the Act is especially designed to prevent the spread of prejudice and to foster tolerance and equality. In denoting the activity described in this section as a discriminatory practice, Parliament has indicated that it views hate propaganda or messages as contrary to the furtherance of equality. In 1966, the Special Committee on Hate Propaganda in Canada, commonly known as the Cohen Committee, had identified the serious harm caused by hate messages. It noted that individuals subjected to racial or religious hatred "may suffer substantial psychological distress, the damaging consequences including a loss of self-esteem, feelings of anger and outrage and strong pressure to renounce cultural differences that mark them as distinct".

The act was previously challenged in 1990. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the law at that time in a split decision, ruling that even though the law offends the Charter it, represents a restriction on freedom of speech that can be demonstrably justified for the betterment of society. In other words, even though everyone has the right to speak their mind, that right is abrogated if it will go against the betterment of society.

That is a slippery slope to slide on because it inevitably leads to a situation where anyone who feels that they have been slighted, can justifiably complain to the Commission.

The lawyer, or his client’s felt slighted and complained, only this time, their complaint wasn’t deemed justified by the Tribunal. The ruling issued on September 2, 2009 was brief when Tribunal chair, Athanasios Hadjis said;

“I have determined that Mr. Lemire contravened s. 13 of the Act in only one of the instances alleged by Mr. Warman, namely the AIDS Secrets article. However, I have also concluded that s. 13(1) in conjunction with subsection 54(1) and (1.1) are inconsistent with s. 2(b) of the Charter, which guarantees the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. The restriction imposed by these provisions is not a reasonable limit within the meaning of section 1 of the Charter. Since a formal declaration of invalidity is not a remedy available to the Tribunal, I will simply refuse to apply these provisions for the purposes of the complaint against Mr. Lemire and I will not issue any remedial order against him.” unquote

In Tribunal chair Athanasios Hadjis's decision, he ruled that Section 13 cases were supposed to be remedial, but had instead "become more penal in nature." On top of being asked to cease producing the discriminatory messages, the act stipulates that an accused can be fined upward of $10,000.

Despite that ruling, the Tribunal did find Lemire responsible for a hate speech for the one posting he made on his website, “AIDS Secrets” but Hadjis also ruled that because of the unconstitutional nature of the law, he refused to make any orders against Lemire.

Marc Lemire’s response to that ruling was; "It's a good day for freedom of speech in Canada."

I am not convinced that it was a good day. Are we to now understand that anyone can spout hatred for homosexuals in a manner that encourages others to hate them?

Free speech proponents are praising the Tribunal’s decision as the beginning of the end of the Canadian Human Rights Act's Section 13, a contentious provision targeting online hate speech that has fielded numerous complaints of censorship in the past.

In yesterday's decision, however, Hadjis said that Section 13 cases were supposed to be remedial, but had instead "become more penal in nature."

On top of being asked to cease producing the discriminatory messages, the act stipulates that an accused can be fined upward of $10,000.

Hadjis did find Lemire responsible for hate speech for one posting on his website, an article titled AIDS Secrets, that blames the HIV epidemic on the rise of "the sick and sleazy pleasure houses of the `liberated' homosexuals."

But because of the unconstitutional nature of the law, he refused to make any orders against Lemire.

In the early 1990s, Lemire was a member of the Heritage Front, a neo-Nazi white supremacist organization. The same legal team that defended Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel headed his constitutional challenge.

In 2007, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in Warman v. Tremaine said in part;

“The purpose of section 13 is to remove hate messages from the public discourse and to promote equality, tolerance and the dignity of the person. The views expressed in these messages inevitably result in prejudice, discrimination and can also lead to physical violence against members of the targeted groups.”

It also said;

“Hate messages can also operate to convince their listeners or readers that members of certain racial or religious groups are inferior. The result may be an increase in acts of discrimination or even incidents of violence towards these groups. Hate messages undermine the dignity and self-worth of targeted groups' members and contribute "to disharmonious relations among various racial, cultural and religious groups as a result eroding the tolerance and open-mindedness that must flourish in a multicultural society which is committed to the idea of equality". unquote

Although, it might be true to conclude that an individual who posts or reads the posting on these sites might be considered an adherent to the opinion they espouse and consequently might already possess feelings of hate and contempt for minority groups, it is conceivable that these feelings might be inflamed further by these messages.

In any event, we should remember that the preconceived feelings of the individual who post or reads such posting is not in issue in the interpretation of s. 13. The question is whether the matter communicated is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.

Obviously, Hadjis considered Lemire’s article as being a form of hatred for those homosexuals whom he claims are liberated homosexuals who go to or frequent sick and sleazy pleasure houses in which they spread Aids to others.

I don’t know how he defined ‘sick and sleazy pleasure houses’ in his article or if he even did describe them unless he is referring to bath houses where many homosexuals used to frequent all the time.

If he was complaining on his website that homosexuals who are suffering from AIDS are frequenting bath houses and spreading the disease to other homosexuals, he may be right. This is a concern we should all be worried about whether or not we are homosexuals or heterosexuals.

Unfortunately, I never got to read his website so I don’t know how he worded his concern in his article.

The slogan: "HIV is a gay disease" is certainly not scientifically correct for the simple reason that HIV is a virus, not a disease. HIV, however, is the accepted cause of AIDS. Certainly a great many gays have got AIDS though sexual contact with other gays who have the virus in their bodies. For this reason, I can’t fault someone who writes an article and publishes it in the Internet as a warning that AIDS is transmittable through sex between two people, be it between two men or between a man and a woman.

I think Lemire’s choice of words, “the sick and sleazy pleasure houses of the liberated homosexuals” is what got him into trouble. He was suggesting in his article that homosexuals are sick and that they frequent sleazy pleasure houses and this in my opinion was not only inappropriate, it was insulting to homosexuals per se. They are not sick and merely frequenting a bath house doesn’t make the bath house a sleazy pleasure house.

He would have been better off if he merely stated that often homosexuals who frequent bath houses are prone to getting AIDS. That is a recognized fact and it isn’t insulting to state that fact any more than it is insulting to state that heterosexual males get AIDS from prostitutes also.

University of Windsor law professor, Richard Moon wrote a report for the CHRC about the role of Section 13 in the Internet age. He said in his report that the law should be repealed. He wrote that Internet use means that “any attempt to exclude all racial or other prejudice from the public discourse would require extraordinary intervention by the state.” Obviously, the Tribunal wasn’t prepared to intervene in Warman’s complaint.

I am concerned about how Section 13 is to be applied. For example, I know of a particular race of people in which many of them, in my opinion; cause a great deal of crimes in our country. Would I be breaching the edict of Section 13 of the Act if I published what race they were? I don’t think so because I would be merely stating an opinion with respect to my concerns about these criminals.

However, if I stated in an article that they were acting in this manner because they were born to be dishonest and/or killers, this would not only be a falsehood and insulting to the great many persons of their race who are upstanding citizens, but also insulting to the parents of those children who unfortunately have turned out to be dishonest and/or killers.

Admittedly, there is a fine line between being fair in an article and being hateful. It is the Tribunal’s role to make that determination as to where the line must be drawn.

Those of us who have chosen to voice our opinions on the Internet through our websites, be they blogs or otherwise, have a responsibility to be fair and honest in our comments and to take special care not to advocate hatred for a particular race, creed, belief or sexual preference.

At the same time, I see nothing wrong in condemning those who commit crimes, acts of terrorism or do creepy things to other humans or animals as long as we are honest in what we write. So far, I have not been faulted for discrimination or libel and that is why I (and many thousands of other bloggers in the Internet) take extra care to make sure that what we want our readers to read from our articles and essays; is our honest, fair and informative opinions.

Opinions are ultimately determined by our feelings. Just as there are no two fingerprints alike, the same applies to opinions. Unfortunately, many opinions are opposed simply because they were unheard of before. That by itself doesn’t necessarily make the opinion that has been submitted, wrong. When considering an opinion that has been expressed, we have to ask ourselves four questions. The first being; “Who gave the opinion?” The second being; “Does in make sense?” The third being; “What is the motive of the person giving the opinion?” and the final question being; “Is the opinion an honest one?”

If after reading an article or a blog, you are satisfied with the answers you have given yourself for these four questions; then read on. If not, then seek opinions elsewhere.

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