Honourable members, thank you for the invitation to appear today.
Earlier this year, I received a seven-day suspension from the social media website Twitter for violating its rules against hateful conduct. According to the Twitter rules, you may not promote violence against, threaten or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease.
What was in my tweet that supposedly promoted violence, threatened or harassed someone? My tweet referenced an individual whom I cannot name here today due to a publication ban in this country. This individual can only be referred to as JY. JY is an individual who has taken 14 female aestheticians to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal because they declined to perform waxing services on his male genitalia. There are also screenshots of Facebook messages between JY and others where it appears that he makes very predatory comments of wanting to help 10- to 12-year-old girls with their tampons in bathroom stalls.
In the tweet that got me suspended, I referred to JY as “a guy who creeps on young girls and vulnerable working women in the Vancouver area”. I posted some of the Facebook messages he has written about his plans to approach young girls in the female washrooms. Why was it deemed hateful conduct for me to write this tweet? It's because JY purports to be a male-to-female transgender person, so by alerting people to his troubling conduct, I got kicked off Twitter for seven days because what I wrote was seen as a transgression against his gender identity.
Prominent Canadian feminist Meghan Murphy was permanently banned from Twitter for misgendering the same individual, JY, whom I have just spoken about, and for tweeting, “men aren't women, though”. These tweets also fell under Twitter's hateful conduct policy. Murphy is now suing Twitter because, as a journalist, her livelihood is largely dependent on her online presence, and she is being denied an online presence and being denied the ability to participate in the public square, as online spaces are today's public square.
I am concerned about the potential return of legislation such as section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. What that legislation does is punish Canadians who, in exercising their right to peaceful, free expression, might offend a member of a protected, marginalized group. If someone with a marginalized identity experiences commentary they find offensive, they can claim the offence is an attack on their identity rather than being legitimate expression. Human rights tribunals become the tools by which those who speak their mind peacefully and non-violently are silenced.
Many other witnesses before this committee have discussed the need for a definition of hate, and many call for a need to draw the line between free speech and hate speech. As a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2017 and 2018, I woke up to how my peers and academic superiors understand hate. When the word got out that in the classroom where I was a teaching assistant I had played an excerpt from TVOntario's The Agenda with Steve Paikin, an excerpt that featured psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson discussing Bill , compelled speech and gender pronouns, a Ph.D. student at my university said at a rally that I had played hate speech in the classroom and had violated the spirit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Likewise, a professor at George Brown College, named Dr. Griffin Epstein, asserted in a letter to the Toronto Star that I had played “hate speech in the classroom”. These are just two examples.
Recently, Facebook has taken to banning white nationalists from their platform. If you poke around online, you'll see that tons of people call me a white nationalist and a white supremacist because I have offered criticisms of the practice of indigenous land acknowledgements and have cited the statistically backed-up fact that white Canadians are becoming a minority in Canada. An instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Christopher Stuart Taylor, used class time in his anthropology class to tell his students that I have neo-Nazi, white supremacist ideologies, which he followed by saying, “I shouldn't have said that; forget I said anything.”
I don't have a Facebook account, but if I did, would it ban me? How many people does it take to smear you as a white nationalist or white supremacist before you get banned from certain online spaces?
This committee has noted that underlying their study on online hate is a finding by Statistics Canada that reported a 47% increase in police-reported hate crimes between 2016 and 2017. However, this increase is principally from non-violent crimes. As the Statistics Canada website reads: “police-reported hate crime in Canada rose sharply in 2017, up 47% over the previous year, and largely the result of an increase in hate-related property crimes, such as graffiti and vandalism”.
Perhaps you caught this story in the news recently. A couple of months ago at Laurentian University in Sudbury a student found some candy on a cafeteria table arranged in the shape of a swastika. This swastika-shaped candy arrangement is being investigated by the university as an incident of hatred and intimidation. However, I do not think that one isolated incident of candy arranged in a swastika is enough evidence to indicate that anyone is trying to incite hatred, target or intimidate. This is an example of how the bar for what constitutes hate is too low.
I have had so many encounters with the hypersensitivity around what constitutes hate that I know bringing back section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act would be a mistake. It would cast too wide a net, and extremists who are already intent on causing real-world violence will go to the deeper and darker web to communicate, while individuals who shouldn't be caught up in online hate legislation will inevitably get caught up in it.
Again, thank you very much to the members of the committee for an invitation to speak to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I am here to speak in defence of the very fundamental human right of free speech.
I know that all the members here are extremely concerned about hate and intolerance, and I know you are horrified by the eruption of bad manners and loathsome opinions on the Internet. Too often social media seem to encourage our worst passions, but despite that—and it is a real problem—censorship is not the answer.
Censorship is an ugly word, and it may well not sound to you like what you're considering doing, in part because your motives are good, but censorship is the right word for what happens when government restricts freedom of speech for any but the narrowest of purposes, and censorship is an ugly word because censorship is an ugly thing.
There are legitimate grounds for government to restrict freedom of speech because the state exists to protect us from force and fraud. It is rightly illegal to conspire to commit crimes. It's illegal to libel or slander people. It's illegal to incite violence, and it's illegal to engage in material misrepresentation, but when governments seek to limit or prevent any communication that does anything else, including insulting or denigrating people or groups, it's censorship.
The problem with censorship is that it cuts the rattle off the snake; it doesn't drain the venom from the fangs. I want to be very clear here that a lot of the opinions that hate speech laws target are not just factually wrong, they are loathsome. My argument here isn't that neo-Nazis are fine people who happen to be misunderstood by idiots and the hypersensitive. My argument is that, in the battle of ideas, truth will prevail and that when you limit the battle of ideas, you put truth in peril.
I don't need to tell you why censorship in tyrannies is bad. They're trying to repress the truth. I don't need to tell you that if you go online you'll find yourselves called tyrants, neo-Nazis and all sorts of moronic insults, but the response to this kind of thing is to rebut it, to refute it, to laugh at it, to shun it, but it is not to call a cop.
What I want to do here is bring up the three arguments that John Stuart Mill made in On Liberty back in 1859 against censorship of unpopular ideas. It is important, to be clear, that it is censorship of unpopular ideas we are talking about. There is very little occasion for elected governments to try to censor popular ideas, but what Mill said is that, first and most fundamentally, an idea that people don't want to hear and that is unfamiliar and upsetting might turn out to be true.
I know you're not worrying about that when it comes to online hate, and there's no reason why you would be, but we have to protect freedom of speech because we might be wrong. We've been surprised before, and we don't have the wisdom to know in advance what ideas we shouldn't silence because we'll eventually realize they were right and which ideas we can safely trample underfoot because we know they are wrong.
Of course there are ideas that we would stake our souls, if we have souls, on being wrong, not just being erroneous, but being vicious. I don't know, because there are certain things you don't want on the record of the committee, but I'm going to say it out loud. Here are some ideas that are so wrong that you might be tempted to say no one can say them: Hitler should have finished the job, or blacks are inferior, that kind of stuff. There is no possibility that we are going to realize one day that they were true and that we shouldn't have been so blind to it.
This brings me to the second of Mill's arguments in favour of free speech, the Dracula effect. Of course he didn't call it that because Bram Stoker hadn't written his book yet, but it's the principle that sunlight destroys evil, that the way we get at truth is to speak out against error, denounce it and refute it.
Open societies are a gigantic gamble that truth has nothing to fear in a contest of ideas, and the trouble with censoring hateful speech is that you drive it underground where it isn't exposed to sunlight, where it isn't refuted, where it isn't ridiculed, where it isn't shamed and where people are not shown the error of their ways, because we want to rescue the haters as well as protect society from hate.
If you keep it off the open Internet, it goes into the dark web. It festers and it breathes in dank basements. It even lets haters wrap themselves in the mantle of martyrdom. You don't want to do that in the name of truth.
The third point that Mill makes is that if you live in a society where conventional wisdom is not challenged, even things that are true tend to be accepted as stale dogma and not as living truths. When you hear correct ideas defended, and when you defend them yourself, they become vital and living parts of your life. They become something you act on, that informs your existence and makes it better.
Censorship doesn't work. It didn't even work in tyrannies. Censorship in the Soviet Union allowed communism to last longer and in the end to collapse more disastrously. It also didn't work in Weimar, Germany, which had laws against anti-Semitism, and they didn't stop Hitler. What did people say in retrospect? They said we should have listened to what Hitler was saying. I meant to bring a copy of Mein Kampf as a prop, but I'm afraid I got busy this morning and forgot it. It belongs on every educated person's bookshelf because we need to know what hate looks like. We need to know how it could once have prevailed so we know how to fight it in others and in ourselves.
I once assigned it as a university text. I thought it would make a great headline, “Right-wing professor assigns Hitler text”. I don't even think the kids read it because it is so long. The one thing I wasn't worried about is they'd read it and become Nazis. You should not worry that if Canadians are exposed to hateful speech online it will turn them into haters. It will do the opposite. It will anger them. It will lead them to speak out against it. It will lead them to think more completely and thoroughly about tolerance and to be more tolerant people.
There are a lot more things I could say but I'm not going to steal my fellow witnesses' time.
I want to quote Queen Elizabeth I. At a time when religious differences threatened bloody civil war she said, “I have no desire to make windows into men's souls”.
That the state can prohibit acts of violence is very clear, and it's an essential duty that the state can prohibit incitement of violence. If someone stands on the street corner and says, “Kill that capitalist”, they're going to get arrested, and they should get arrested. But if someone stands on a street corner and says that the only solution to the ills of capitalism is violent proletariat revolution, they should not be arrested, because we don't need censorship to protect us from force and fraud. We certainly don't need it to protect us from truth or error. We are adults.
In free societies, from the time of Galileo and Socrates, our heroes are those who challenged conventional wisdom, shocked reputable opinion, outraged their neighbours and questioned authority. Most of them turned out to be cranks, and they're forgotten but some of them turned out to have been right. When we try to silence opinions we don't want to hear, we pay a huge price in truths we don't hear, and we drive untruths underground. In doing so we strengthen them; we do not weaken them.
Free speech lets us discover unexpected truths. It lets us refute error. It lets us live in the truth of our beliefs. It's a vitally important human right, and I implore this committee to uphold it in all its messy glory.
Thank you very much, monsieur le président
, and also honourable members of the committee. I am honoured to be here.
I would like to say a quick word—as much as I always enjoy seeing —about the defenestration of from this committee, which I understand is the business of the members of the committee.
I am concerned. I was driving into Ottawa listening to my old friend Evan Solomon on the radio, who was arguing that it was perhaps time for to be booted from caucus.
That is actually the age we live in, where people can have one infraction and their life implodes, their career implodes, they're vaporized for it. That is actually one of the most disturbing trends on the free speech issue. The surviving vice-chair of this committee said recently that Jordan Peterson should not be permitted to testify to this committee. Bernie Farber, I believe just last night said Lindsay Shepherd should be booted from appearing before this committee. Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Peterson are law-abiding Canadian citizens, and this practice of labelling people and demanding that they be instantly “de-platformed”, booted from polite society, is, in fact, more serious than some of the other matters before this committee.
I was here last time around, 10 years ago, when we got rid of section 13 because it was corrupt in absolutely every aspect of its operation, from minor bureaucrats indulging strange James Bond fantasies and playing undercover dress-up Nazis on the Internet to pathetic rubber-stamp jurists who gave section 13 a 100% conviction rate that even respectable chaps like Kim Jong-un and Saddam Hussein would have thought was perfectly ridiculous.
The worst aspect of it was secret trials—secret trials in Ottawa, not in Tehran or Pyongyang, but in Ottawa. I discovered it one evening before dinner and I emailed my friends at Maclean's. The eminent barrister, Julian Porter—who I see the recently retained as his Q.C.; that's how respectable he is—in a couple of hours wrote a motion referencing Viscount Haldane and Ambard v. Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago, real law, not the pseudo law of section 13, and did what John did. Julian's motion opened up that dank, fetid dungeon of pseudo justice to the public, to the people of Canada, and after 20 minutes in the cleansing sunlight that John talked about, the unimpressive jurist in that case, Athanasios Hadjis, decided that section 13 was unconstitutional and he wasn't going to have anything more to do with it. Sunshine works.
The most important aspect...while we're quoting judges, John Moulton wrote a famous essay a century ago on the realm of manners. He said the measure of a society is not what one is forbidden to do, which is to murder and steal and rape, and not what one is compelled to do, such as pay taxes or join the army or whatever. You measure a society by the space in between, the realm of manners, where free people regulate themselves. Canadians do not bash gays or lynch minorities because they are enjoined by the state not to do so. They do so because they are operating in Lord Moulton's realm of manners where free people, civilized people, regulate themselves. That is where the internal contradictions of a fractious multicultural society should be played out.
The idea of bureaucrats once again getting into this business is deeply disturbing. They didn't have enough work last time. Shortly before the Maclean's case, which was the one I was involved in, the senior counsel for the Canadian Human Rights Commission actually went to Toronto to speak to various groups to say they weren't getting enough cases and that's why people should file more complaints.
Ultimately, free speech is hate speech and hate speech is free speech. It's for the speech you hate, the speech you revile. The alternative to free speech is approved speech, and that necessarily means approved by whom? Well, approved by yourself as a citizen, if you don't want to have Lindsay Shepherd over to dinner, as Bernie Farber doesn't. That's fair enough. However, once it becomes speech approved by the state and by formal bodies, it effectively means the speech approved by the powerful.
The biggest threat to free speech at the moment is a malign alliance between governments and big tech doing the kinds of things that Lindsay spoke of. The photograph that sums it up is the one of with Mrs. May, Ms. Ardern and President Macron the other day sitting across the table from the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple. These are six woke billionaires who presume to regulate the opinions of all seven billion people on this planet. That is far more of a threat than some pimply 17-year-old neo-Nazi tweeting in his mother's basement somewhere out on the Prairies. That issue is the real threat to genuine liberty in our society.
I cannot believe that a mere 10 years on, we are talking about restoring this law. It was appalling, and unfortunately, this committee and the House never actually confronted it in reality.
I will finally say this on a personal note. I was born in Canada. I love Canada. I would die for Canada. I am old-fashioned enough to take the allegiance of citizenship seriously, but 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.
Thank you very much, sir.
What should be done in response to online hate is that we should first and foremost not put it out ourselves. That might seem like a very trite point, but I noticed that last night there was a tweet from a professor of political science, for whom I thought I had some respect, which had a clip of a political leader speaking about the fact that we're all God's children and he said, “Keep your imaginary “beep” out of my public policy”. I thought to myself how have we come to a place where somebody like that would not be ashamed just to utter obscenities in public—can we please stop doing that—but in the second place to dismiss Christianity as a word I'm not going to say into the record? This seems to me to incite hate and ridicule for Christians at least in its intention, but what it does is expose the perpetrator as contemptible.
First of all, we don't tweet things like that. Second, we react to them with contempt. We can unfollow these people. We can answer them, as I did, in what I hope was courteous language but very firm on the substance. If invited to debate a Nazi, I would not be afraid to do so. If invited to debate a racist, I would not be afraid to do so. But what you don't do is silence by force the expression of odious opinions. I was thinking actually to do with this thing about New Zealand and the manifesto, which apparently is unfit for consumption by parliamentarians, although as with Mein Kampf or, say, Stalin's Foundations of Leninism, you need to know about this stuff because it's dangerous.
In the middle of the 20th century John Scarne was one of the most eminent magicians in the United States. During World War II he went around teaching American GIs how to cheat at poker. Someone said that was the strangest thing and why was he teaching GIs to cheat. Scarne responded, “Because the bad guys already know all this stuff and I want the guy who wants to play an honest game of poker to recognize when somebody is doing something with a deck that they shouldn't be.”
Again, if you think you can keep the name of that shooter or his ideas out of the dark web, you are deluded as to your powers. What we need to do when we encounter online hate is answer it indignantly, but, as I say, in such a way if possible as to redeem the hater themselves, because as said, we are all children of God. But if you can't redeem the hater you can at least protect others by showing what's wrong with these ideas. And that's what we do. We don't drive them underground. We don't drive them into the places where the Nazi party spread its message despite laws against anti-Semitism in Weimar, Germany. We do not have the wisdom.
Do not arrogate to yourselves the power to silence speech, because you don't have the wisdom to know what needs to be silenced. None of us should have that power. And it doesn't help. It simply gives hate a hiding place where conditions are propitious for it to breed and swarm out.
As I said, the problem with section 13 is that Canadians aren't very hateful people, so there was a lack of real serious complaints.
One man had his name on every complaint since 2002. A man called Richard Warman was the plaintiff on every section 13 complaint since 2002. It's a bit like Groundhog Day for me, but I'll proceed anyway. As I mentioned last time around, some of you may know that there was a self-appointed witch-finder general in England some centuries back, and for whatever it was—two pounds—he'd go out and find witches. Richard Warman was the hate-finder general of Canada from 2002—one plaintiff on every single complaint.
The offending material was seen by nobody. One post that the Canadian Human Rights Commission spent years investigating under section 13 had been viewed by 0.8 of a Canadian or, if you include the territories, 0.6713 of a Canadian, or something like that. Most of those 0.6713s of a Canadian were undercover agents of the Human Rights Commission whiling away their time at taxpayer expense on groups like Stormfront. In other words, Dean Steacy and Richard Warman of the Canadian Human Rights Commission joined neo-Nazi groups. There weren't enough neo-Nazis in Canada, so we had servants of the Crown pretending to be neo-Nazis, which is preposterous. They were aided by Sergeant Camp, for example, of the Edmonton Police Service, who was also a member of Stormfront. So, if you are one of the three neo-Nazis in Canada, and you go online one afternoon thinking you'll meet like-minded neo-Nazis, you'll find that the only people on Stormfront are Dean Steacy of the CHRC trying to entrap Richard Warman of the CHRC trying to entrap Sergeant Camp of the Edmonton Police Service. It was a corrupt and indefensible racket, and I have heard nothing from the witnesses before this committee that would suggest we are any more capable today of preventing those abuses.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll be sharing my time with Mr. Erskine-Smith.
Ms. Shepherd, I want to discuss with you a couple things that you mentioned in your presentation and also some activities that you've undertaken.
One thing that I think is missing sometimes when we talk about free speech is that it sometimes gets confused with consequence-free speech, meaning that people have to be responsible for what they do say. I agree, obviously, with the point that free speech in Canada is a protected right, that it is obviously extremely important and that we cherish it, but that it is subject to reasonable limits in our charter. Consequence-free speech is something that has to be borne in mind when responsible individuals are engaging in civil society.
I want to talk for a minute about a recent YouTube interview that you did with Mr. Gariépy. I'm sorry if I'm pronouncing that incorrectly. I'm not familiar with him. The topic of population replacement came up. I know you talked a bit in your presentation about whites becoming a minority. This YouTube channel hosts white supremacists quite often, including neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer, and former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who has appeared on that program. You appeared on it recently talking about population replacement. After you finished that statement, Mr. Gariépy then started talking about white genocide and how when whites are in the minority, like in South Africa and Haiti, white genocide occurs. You said nothing in rebuttal to that. Don't you think that free speech comes with a responsibility, especially when you're confronted with inflammatory and insightful rhetoric?
Yes. Though I am not here to debate specifics, I want to say that inasmuch as laws that censor speech are fundamentally illegitimate, it is not appropriate to figure out what the best way is to do a bad thing.
On the other hand, I talked earlier about how the Internet is awash in rubbish. I run a website that is actually skeptical about man-made climate change. People are forever saying, “We're going to report you as fake news and get you shut down.”
The other day, somebody put a comment on our blog which said, and I quote, “Canada's Environment Minister, (aka Climate Barbie), in typical Nazi like screeching manner declared” blah, blah, blah, and at the end it said, “Joseph Goebbels would be proud.” Of course I deleted that comment as soon as I saw it, because as it is a private matter and not a governmental matter, we are under no obligation to tolerate this kind of rubbish when it appears. I have reproached people for using that nickname for our environment minister. I think it is disrespectful. I think it is mean-spirited. I think it is harmful to speaker and to audience alike. Man is not poisoned by what goes in his mouth but by what comes out of it.
When this is a private matter, we refuse to associate with these kinds of things. When this is a public matter, it is not your place to silence us, even if we want to say something like the Quran does not separate church and state, and this is a serious problem in political economy.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I must confess that I find this panel extremely challenging, because I happen to live in the real world and I happen to live in this century. When we have members on the panel saying things like there is no gay-bashing in this country, which is simply not true, and when they say that hate crimes for the most part aren't violent unless you look at the case of transgender Canadians, when most of the hate crimes that are reported are violent.... We've had a lot of, I think, factually incorrect material.
I think for me the question comes down to the minimizing of the impacts of hate speech, so I'm going to talk very personally here as someone who has been the first out gay man in a lot of different positions. I don't think any of you three understand what the result of hate speech is for people in my position, or for transgender people, or for indigenous women in Canada. I don't think you understand at all what happens in the real world.
When I was appointed to the police board some time ago, we had to have a discussion with the police chief about whether I had to have more police protection, because there were people online—at that time it was early—who were inciting violence against me as an out gay man.
When I was elected to city council in a very progressive community, we had to have discussions about what would happen at the public meetings because of things that were being said and posted about the fact that—my favourite—“someone should do something” about me. I took that very seriously and certainly my partner took that very seriously.
When I was elected to Parliament, I received death threats, multiple death threats. I had to meet with the police chief and have a discussion about what was an appropriate response to those threats. Some were very explicit. Some were less explicit.
My conversation with the police chief was, “If I'm a member of Parliament and somebody who has been an out public figure for—by that time—almost two decades, and this is being directed at me, what is being directed at other members of my community?” It was, “What are they facing on a daily basis? If we don't do something about that, then we are in fact encouraging it to go on.”
The police chief I worked with was very progressive and said, “Surely you're not talking about arrests.” I said, “Of course I'm not talking about arrests, but I'm talking about some door-knocking with those who have directly threatened me and about saying that this behaviour is unacceptable and it needs to stop.” There were a number of cases where the police did agree to do that. In my case, I was not worried on a daily basis that any of those particular individuals which we'd identified would come after me, although it was possible. I was, as I said, worried about the impact of that kind of speech and that kind of behaviour on other members of my community.
I would have to say that for me, when I first arrived in Parliament, there was an official statement done by a party, which I won't name today, suggesting that I was a friend of pedophiles. You might say that's free speech. My argument with the Speaker was that it impaired my ability to do my job as a member of Parliament. By identifying me with a quite reviled—and justly so—group in society, people were affecting my ability to act as a member of Parliament.
Unfortunately, the Speaker at that time never ruled on that question, and I would have to say that perhaps that was a statement by an outlier, because that didn't happen again in Parliament. But it was necessary for me to speak up at that point to prevent the continuation of that kind of speech.
When you—and all three of you have done this—minimize the impact of hate speech on people's daily lives, I think you miss the entire point of these hearings. The entire point of these hearings is not about criminalizing speech. It's about deciding, in a modern society where social media have in fact become the public square, where do we draw the line?
We all know the old cliché that there are limits on speech, that you can't shout fire in a crowded theatre. The problem is defining where that crowded theatre is these days. Quite often, that crowded theatre is online and is the Internet. What this committee is trying to do in these hearings is to figure out where to draw that line. What's the appropriate place? It's not trying to ban speech or ideas.
I would have to say—because one of you did say it—that we need to debate these ideas so we know what's wrong with them. I would submit that we already know what's wrong with racism. We already know what's wrong with homophobia. We already know what's wrong with misogyny. What we're trying to do is to make sure that those ideas have less impact on the real lives of people in our society.
I guess I reject almost everything that you said today, because the context you place it in is academic, it's historical, and it has no relation at all to what happens in the real world.
I believe, Mr. Chair, that we're out of time as a committee, so I will leave my comments there.
Mr. Mark Steyn: Could I respond?