From Social Platform to State Enforcer

“No monarch, no parliament, no government, and certainly no bureaucratic agency operating the pseudo-law of section 13 can claim jurisdiction over my right to think freely, to read freely, to speak freely and to argue freely.”

Those were the closing words of Mark Steyn’s testimony before parliamentarians on the Canadian House of Commons’ so-called justice and human rights committee just two weeks ago.

His call fell on deaf ears.

Yesterday, the justice committee tabled its report on “online hate” in Canada’s parliament.

The report laid out nine recommendations, one of which being that government should provide a “civil remedy for those who assert that their human rights have been violated under the Canadian Human Rights Act, irrespective of whether that violation happens online, in person, or in traditional print format. This remedy could take the form of reinstating the former section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, or implementing a provision analogous to the previous section 13 within the Canadian Human Rights Act, which accounts for the prevalence of hatred on social media.”

Once you strip away the mumbo jumbo bureaucrat-speak in there, it means the Canadian Liberals wish not only to revive section 13 from the dead, but to give it untold powers to force social media companies to purge online speech from whomever the government deems the hatemongers du jour.

This is apparent in another recommendation, that lawmakers “establish requirements for online platforms and Internet service providers with regards to how they monitor and address incidents of hate speech, and the need to remove all posts that would constitute online hatred in a timely manner.”

Of course there’s no provided definition for what “hate speech” is in the context of this desired law. Just a promise to figure it out later.

Before section 13’s repeal under the previous Conservative government, there was a quasi-judicial body to decide if online posts were sufficiently “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.” Those found guilty of violating this provision were slapped with a fine or gag order, while having none of the protections afforded to criminal defendants throughout the process.

This regime seems like child’s play compared to what’s proposed in this report–elimination of online speech by social media giants under the threat of government penalty. Not sure which I like better, actually: the opaque, unappealable hammer or the sham tribunal that at least pretends to give you a shot at beating the rap.

Mark detailed the battle against section 13 in his book, Lights Out. Though it appears that title is not entirely accurate in describing the online censorship mandate’s life. The law and its 100 per cent conviction rate were bad enough the first go ’round in how they targeted individual bloggers and forum posters. There is a particular insidiousness this time in the government wishing to turn tech companies into state enforcers.

Many of these companies censor their users without the heavy hand of government as it is. Holding them responsible for what individual users post removes the one defence for this digital oligarchy’s behavior—that private censorship is distinct from that emanating from the state.

I see a few probable outcomes here:

  • Government bureaucrats will have a direct line into Facebook and Twitter, telling them when a Canadian’s account or post needs to be zapped.
  • Activist groups representing the LGBTQ community, the Muslim community, the LGBTQ Muslim community, and the like (these are the groups most prominently represented on the justice committee’s witness list) will flag content they don’t like with social media giants, threatening to send it to the human rights police if the companies don’t remove it.
  • Social media companies, not wishing to deal with the hassle of Canadian kangaroo courts, will just pre-emptively and broadly censor users who cut close to the arbitrary line at which free speech becomes “hate speech.”

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with engaging organizations representing minority interests. But giving them a trump card on defining online hate is a recipe for disaster. Especially when British police are already harassing people for misgendering trans individuals, proving the line between incivility and illegality has been obliterated.

This relationship between activist groups and Big Tech may even be part of the design here.

The justice committee’s recommendations also include dumping money into “civil society organizations” for the purposes of “data collection,” because “members of marginalized groups often feel more comfortable reporting hate incidents and hate crimes directly to civil society organizations which reflect their community rather than law enforcement officials.”

It’s less important for the law to be enforced by lawmen and lawwomen than it is for the diversity industry to be on the front lines of these things, evidently.

The good news is that with only days left in the parliamentary calendar, it’s unlikely this report will trigger legislation prior to October’s Canadian election. Though should the Liberals win re-election, this will serve as a roadmap to not only pushing the state back into the regulation of online speech, but doing so with an unprecedented mandate and unrivaled gusto.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the outcome of this committee’s study was determined before it even began. Of the nearly five dozen witnesses invited to testify, the number whose testimony focused on preserving free speech could be counted on one hand. Dozens specifically called for a restoration of section 13.

The document detailing the scope of the study cited the repeal of section 13 as leaving some sort of void in the law. In other words, this charade was based on a fundamentally false premise—that something is needed to regulate online speech in Canada.

If you ask legislators to find a solution, they’ll make up a problem to justify it.

The new section 13 hasn’t been implemented just yet, so Mark Steyn Club members can still chat away in the comments without worrying about bureaucrats from the Dominion of Canada. Commenting is just one of the myriad benefits of Mark Steyn Club membership, which you can learn more about here. If you enjoyed what Andrew had to say, you may enjoy rubbing elbows with him aboard the Mark Steyn Cruise. This year’s voyage to Alaska is sold out, but cabins are still available for next year’s trek to the Mediterranean.