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Hate speech in Canada

Adding sexual orientation
to the criminal code: Part 1

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Hate propaganda in the Criminal Code of Canada:

In the part of the Criminal Code that deals with hate propaganda, Section 318 criminalizes the advocacy or promotion of genocide.

It originally covered only hate speech against a "... section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, or ethnic origin."

Thus an individual could promote the genocide of women, men, inter-sexuals, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, cisgendered people, transgender people, transsexuals, the elderly, obese persons ... even lawyers or webmasters and not run afoul of this law.

Section 319 discusses the public incitement of hatred and the willful promotion of hatred against identified groups. It uses the same list of identified groups to be protected.

Svend Robinson, a Member of Parliament, felt that sexual orientation should be added to the list of identified groups so that the term:

"... means any section of the public distinguished by color, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation."

The amendment protects heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals. However, it still leaves countless groups of people unprotected against hate propaganda.

Private members bill C-250:

Svend Robinson is a member of the New Democratic Party (a socialist group), a member of Parliament from British Columbia, a famous Canadian civil libertarian, and a well known gay male. He introduced a private member bill, C-250, to amend Section 318 and 319-- the existing hate propaganda legislation -- by adding "sexual orientation" as a fifth protected class.

Misinformation about C-250:

A great deal of misinformation was circulated about C-250. In reality:

bullet C-250 is not a new law. C-250 does not even add a new section or subsection to an existing law. It merely enlarges subsection 4 of section 308; it increases the number of classes protected from hate speech and literature from the previous four groups to five.
bullet It is not a pro-homosexual bill. The bill does not mention gays, lesbians or homosexuals. It equally protects persons of all sexual orientations, whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual.
bullet It does not represent a threat to any clergy: priest, minister, pastor or other clergy delivering anti-gay sermons. Anyone delivering an anti-gay speech based on the famous six "clobber" passages in the Bible or similar passages from the holy texts of other religions is immune from prosecution under Sections 318 and 319 of the criminal code. This immunity would also apply to lay members of any religion. However, a clergyperson advocating genocide against gays or lesbians, or any other identified group listed in the Hate Propaganda section of the criminal code could face prosecution. 

Why so many religious conservatives opposed C-250:

It appears that many religious conservatives opposed C-250 because either:

bullet They misunderstood the nature of C-250 or
bullet They viewed C-250 as one more step towards the acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality by Canadians. or
bullet A concern that their verbal attacks on homosexuals and bisexuals might trigger nuisance lawsuits under sections C-318 and C-319 even though:
bullet Their attacks would fall short of promoting genocide, and
bullet They are allowed freedom of hate speech under C-319's religious exemption clause.

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The vote in the House of Commons:

The House voted on bill C-250 on 2003-SEP-17.

Many religious conservatives expressed concern that including hate speech that targets people on the basis of their sexual orientation will stifle free speech, particularly among religious groups. Some are concerned that the Bible might be considered hate literature.

The bill's sponsor, Svend Robinson, said:

"The message that is sent out by the failure to include gay and lesbian people in hate propaganda legislation is that our lives aren't as valuable...If we're going to say no to the promotion of hatred and violence based on religion, color, race and ethnic origin, surely we should say that gay bashing and promotion of hatred and violence against gay and lesbian people is just as unacceptable." 4

Derek Rogusky, of the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family, Canada is quoted as saying:

"We've seen through the courts that when religious freedom comes up against gay rights, that in fact religious freedom intends to be more often than not the loser in those particular cases." 4

This statement is still another indication that the meaning of the term "religious freedom" is changing. It used to mean that a person could believe in the tenets of their chosen religion without government interference or other oppression. "Religious freedom" today increasingly means the freedom to verbally attack and denigrate minorities. This is a dangerous development, because if a faith group becomes identified by the public as promoting hatred of minorities, it is liable to suffer significant loss in membership. Also, many people would become reluctant to join a group that is associated with so much hatred.

At 6:49 PM of 2003-SEP-17, the speaker of the House declared that the bill had passed. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Commission, the vote was 143 in favor and 110 opposed. (According to my ears, and the report in the next day's Toronto Star, it was 141 to 110. This was one of the rare instances where a private member's bills was successfully passed by Parliament.

All members of the Alliance Party voted against the bill. The Alliance Party was a far-right group that now forms part of the Conservative Party. Forty-one Liberal backbenchers also voted "nay." But most Liberals and almost all Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party members voted in favor.

References used:

  1. "Hate propaganda: Advocating genocide," Criminal Code of Canada, at:
  2. Randall Palmer, "Religious Hatred? Canadian Hate-Crimes Bill Sparks Debate Over Bible, Koran," ABC News/Reuters, 2003-MAY-16, at:
  3. "Make gay-bashing a hate crime, Robinson says,", 2003-MAY-16, at:

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Copyright 2003 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-AUG-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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