Quebec Hate Speech Bill Could Limit Free Speech, Target Those Who Criticize Islamic Religion on Website or Facebook Page

The flag of Quebec Province, Canada.
The flag of Quebec Province, Canada. | (Photo: Public Domain)

A bill introduced in the Canadian Province of Quebec seeks to curtail "hate speech" and may go as so far as to suppress and target individuals critical of Islam and other protected groups.

Bill 59, which was introduced in Quebec's National Assembly in June, declares in its introduction its purpose "to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence."

Canada currently has prohibitions against hate speech in its criminal code but this legislation allows for greater investigative power and authority for the Quebec Human Rights Commission, with first offenders of "hate speech" being fined $1000 to $10,000 and repeat offenders facing fines as high as $20,000.

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The new enforcement mechanisms aims to protect those listed under section 10 of the Quebec Charter which prohibits "hate speech" against "race, color, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age except as provided by law, civil status, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.

The legislation description notes that those determined by the commission have engaged in hate speech their names will be entered into a public list available publicly on the internet that is hosted by the commission. Any citizen is free to report purported hate speech so that the Human Rights Commission can conduct an investigation and "determine the appropriate action to take."

"The bill takes its inspiration from recommendations made public by the QHRC in November 2014," reports Canada's National Post. "Jacques Frémont, the commission president, explained that he planned to use the requested powers to sue those critical of certain ideas, 'people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page."

In the past, Frémont has cited resolutions in support of censorship adopted by the United Nations against enacted to curtail speech against Islam.

According to the Montreal Gazette, "public discourse would be targeted but not private conversations over the internet."

Proponents of free speech find recent trends in support of blasphemy laws in the West troubling and the National Post, strongly opposed to Bill 59, notes:

"The details of Bill 59 are chilling. Article 6 would 'give the QHRC the power to initiate legal proceedings before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal without having to wait for complaints from the public.'"

The National Post cites that the proposed legislation echoes section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act that was repealed in 2013, which was unsuccessfully used to attempt to silence commentators such as Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant because of critical language against Islam that some Muslims found offensive.

Article 3 allows members of an indentifiable group as well as people outside the group to make complaints triggering suits for hate speech before the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal," added The National Post.

Bill 59 was introduced along with a separate piece of legislation known as Bill 62, which seeks to undercut the radicalization of Muslims in Quebec by prohibiting face coverings in public spaces. Much of the Islamic community in Quebec opposes Bill 62, and hearings are taking place on the legislation and will continue into September. The hearings largely consist of testimony from free speech advocates, minority religious groups, and LGBT activist groups.

A June editorial in Montreal's The Suburban simply noted, "leaving decisions on issues of freedom to bureaucrats suggests two levels of citizenship on fundamental rights. One level for all of us, another for state agents who can limit our rights."

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