The Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Canada is in the middle of a hate crime crisis. In 2019, Statistics Canada estimates there were 223,000 hate crimes in Canada. The police found fewer than 1% of those, in the same time period. This means that, in Canada, you’re more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than be injured in a motor vehicle accident (140,801 in 2019).
More and more hate crimes are reaching the public’s attention. Earlier this month, vandals targeted a synagogue, a mosque, and a monument to Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims. Last week, a note threatening a terrorist attack was sent to an Islamic Centre in BC. In June, there was yet another string of attacks on women wearing hijab in Edmonton. The Ottawa 2SLGBTQ+ community is being targeted with repeated anti-trans postering campaigns.
To date, none of the candidates have talked about the hate crime crisis on the campaign trail. However, they have policies in the platforms that would impact hate movements, online hate, and hate crime. Now that the Liberals have released theirs, we can examine the platforms side by side.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network is a nonpartisan organization, meaning we do not cheerlead for a particular party. Nonpartisan does not mean nonpolitical. We have been pushing for all three major parties to acknowledge Canada’s hate crime crisis, and promise meaningful action.
When looking at the platforms, it’s clear that our constant advocacy, and that of our allied organizations, has made a direct impact. Many of the specific actions items we have been calling for are in the Liberal and NDP platforms. We can see an acknowledgement of the issue of online hate in the Conservative platform.
Our expertise is not systemic or institutional racism, nor is it reconciliation for Canada’s genocide of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. For analysis on how each party’s platforms would impact specific communities or the state of racism, misogyny, and anti-2SLGBTQ+ hate more generally, go listen to what those communities are saying.
We are, however, experts in overt and obvious hatred, namely hate movements, online hate, and hate crime. That’s the lens through which we’re analysing each party’s platform.
Let’s dive in.
- National anti-hate action plan by 2022
Good. Canada is in the middle of a hate crime crisis. 223,000 hate crimes occured in 2019, meaning a person in Canada is more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than be hurt in a motor vehicle accident.
- Re-considering criminal code changes to address hate crime
Good. After previously saying no to criminal code changes, the Liberals seem to be open to the idea. Former law enforcement leaders and community organizations want to see hate crimes as separate criminal code provisions, rather than just sentencing enhancements. This would send a strong signal to frontline officers, and would be a tool in holding police accountable for their performance when it comes to hate crime.
- Will reinstate s. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act
Good. Bringing back section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act would allow communities to make complaints against the worst of the worst hatemongers, have those complaints heard by a tribunal, and the tribunal could order a cease and desist. As proposed, it would be brought back with multiple safeguards in place to ensure the system is not abused, and that it’s reserved for serious cases.
- Will introduce anti-hate legislation within 100 days of taking office
Good. One in five Canadians has experienced online hate. We know that online hate is the free expression issue of our generation: it silences women, BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ persons, and other members of equity deserving groups. It’s on social media platforms that people, especially youth, learn to hate, and connect with likeminded racists. 80% of Canadians support legislation that would require social media companies to proactively remove hate. Passing this legislation is the most important thing any Canadian government can do today to reduce online hate, online and offline hate crime, and protect free expression.
- A national fund for the survivors of hate attacks
Good. The idea was recently proposed by the National Council of Canadian Muslims as part of its recommendations following the terrorist attack that took the lives of the Afzaal family and orphaned their nine-year-old son.
While these are good promises, and, indeed, most of what we’ve asked for, it needs to be said: the Liberals have had six years to do something about hate movements, the hate crime crisis, and online hate, and they accomplished nothing significant. They finally put forward two pieces of anti-hate legislation, only to call a snap election. It’s encouraging that they promise to introduce anti-hate legislation within 100 days, if elected.
- Double funding and make the Security Infrastructure Program easier to access
Good. Communities are concerned about attacks to their spaces and places of worship, and it shouldn’t take vandalism or an attack to qualify for security infrastructure funds. It’s important, however, to have some safeguards against the fund being abused. For example, the Ukrainian Youth Unity Complex in Edmonton received $35,000, which paid for a security system to protect the statue of Nazi collaborator Roman Shukhevych after somebody spraypainted “Nazi scum” on it.
- $25 million to law enforcement for online threats of violence, hate speech, and disinformation
Fair. However, police found less than 1% of Canada’s 223,000 hate crimes in 2019. Law enforcement are often disinclined to pursue hate crimes for both workplace culture and systemic reasons, according to surveys of Ontario police officers done by Dr. Barbara Perry.
- Criminalize online statements encouraging violence “against other people or identifiable groups”
Bad. There are already laws against incitement and hate speech, they are simply not used by law enforcement. At best, this is simply maintaining the status quo.
- Impose a “stronger legal duty” for social media platforms to remove illegal content
Bad. They would only require content that incites violence to be removed, while ignoring that hate speech creates an environment from which violence originates and in and of itself silences women, BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+ persons and other equity deserving groups. Fully 80% of Canadians support requiring social media companies to proactively remove hate speech, including a slim majority of Conservative voters. Further, “content that incites violence” is sufficiently vague that law enforcement and platforms could interpret it overbroadly.
Bad. Bringing back section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act would allow communities to make complaints against the worst of the worst hatemongers, have those complaints heard by a tribunal, and the tribunal could order a cease and desist. As proposed, it would be brought back with multiple safeguards in place to ensure the system is not abused, and that it’s reserved for serious cases.
The Conservatives suggest that it’s the criminal system alone that should handle hate speech and incitement. This was one of the arguments against s. 13 when it was repealed by the Harper conservatives (despite being upheld as constitutional by the Federal Court of Appeal). In the interim years, we have seen that criminal charges are rarely used by law enforcement, slow, and not a deterrent. In the absence of s. 13, there has been no tool to hold the worst of the worst hatemongers personally accountable.
- Will not support an independent body to oversee social media regulations
Bad. Adding new criminal provisions and regulations on social media companies without independent oversight raises the spectre of political censorship.
- $75 million for the “restoration of historical monuments”
This is a dog-whistle to the far-right. This policy includes promises to “continue to support efforts to maintain Canada’s national monuments” and repair and restore statues. It was neo-Nazis coming to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue that kicked off the violent “Jews will not replace us!” tiki torch march in Charlottesville. In Canada, statues of John A. Macdonald are being defaced or toppled in recognition of his role in the genocide of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Equity deserving groups and anti-racists want some statues removed from the public square in recognition of the hurt it causes certain communities, the far-right defends their presence. That’s the context. This is a dog-whistle, and one that could generate physical conflicts.
The Conservatives also promise to “ensure the prompt completion of the Canadian Monument to the Victims of Communism.” According to its website, the project has received “donations honouring fascists [and] Nazi collaborators.”
Relying on the criminal code and law enforcement to address online hate and the hate crime crisis hasn’t worked for the past 10 years. The police only find 1% of hate crime; they bring charges in a small percent of that 1% percent. The Conservative’s refusal to support meaningful anti-hate legislation and rely on law enforcement is, therefore, not encouraging.
- National action plan to “dismantle far-right extremist organizations”
Good. However, while formal hate groups do still exist, the current threat lies more with loose, online networks than card-carrying memberships. We need a strategy to address movements moreso than groups.
- National standards for identifying and recording all hate incidents
Good, but no details. We would hope this would include annual surveys on hate crime, and national standards for how police treat, process, investigate, and publicly report hate crime complaints.
- Working group to counter online hate
Good, but further details are required to determine what they plan to accomplish.
- Legislation to require social media platforms to proactively remove hate content
Good. The government has published a technical paper on this sort of legislation. We hope any future legislation can be expedited by adopting and fine-tuning the plan already put forward.
- Dedicated hate crime units
Fair. Law enforcement are often disinclined to pursue hate crimes for both workplace culture and systemic reasons, according to surveys and interviews of Ontario police officers done by Dr. Barbara Perry. Police departments with dedicated hate crime units likely perform somewhat better, but most large departments already have a unit. These units tend to be anemic, however, and only called in when a hate crime complaint has been made. Some departments have begun door-knocking the perpetrators of hate crime in situations in which they will not pursue charges, in an attempt to dissuade the perpetrator from similar behaviour in the future. We believe this should be attempted by more departments in the short term, and its effectiveness studied.
The NDP are making promises similar to the Liberals. Under either government we will likely see some form of social media regulation requiring them to proactively remove hate speech, which is the most important step we can take in the short term. Their acknowledgement that there is a serious issue with hate crime data is another point in their favour. We would encourage the NDP and Liberals to take from each other’s ideas.