Sunday, November 23, 2008

Keith Martin Reintroduces His Motion

In the last parliament, Keith Martin, the Liberal M.P. for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, introduced a private member's motion (M-446) which called for the removal of Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 13(1) gives the Canadian Human Rights Commission the authority to investigate and prosecute (at the Human Rights Tribunal) speech that is "likely to expose a person or persons to hatred and contempt." Quite apart from hate speech laws in the Criminal Code of Canada, and torts such as liable in the civil law, proceedings under Section 13(1) are more bureaucratic than legal exercises.

Hate speech prosecutions in criminal court require a standard of proof that is "beyond a reasonable doubt." Defamation proceedings in civil courts require a standard of proof that is a probability "on the preponderance of the evidence." But Human Rights Tribunal proceedings have an even lower standard of proof, and lack the same rigorous rules of evidence. Truth is not a defense. Fair comment is not a defense. Hearsay can be admitted as testimony. Critics are quick to point out that such a system is always open to abuse and can be extremely arbitrary. Even the most benign critics of HRCs will question whether Section 13(1) is simply an unnecessary duplication in the law, an additional bureaucratic layer that is designed to favour the complainant.

When the last parliament was prorogued for the general election, M-446 died on the order table. But now, as Ezra Levant reports, Keith Martin has resurrected the motion, reintroducing it as M-153. The motion reads:

M-153 — November 19, 2008 — Mr. Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca) — That, in the opinion of the House, subsection 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act should be deleted from the Act.

Usually, private member's motions don't amount to much, particularly if they originate with opposition M.P.s. But it will be interesting to see what happens in this case, given that the Conservative Party Convention last week in Winnipeg voted almost unanimously in favour of Resolution P-203, which stated:

The Conservative Party supports legislation to remove authority from the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal to regulate, receive, investigate or adjudicate complaints related to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

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