Hate

As the material on the facing page shows, the pamphleteers of hate are busier than ever. How can we stop them without limiting free speech? It’s a tricky legalistic problem, but Ottawa’s solved it. And soon hate-mongering like this may be outlawed across the country. BLAIR FRASER reports

BLAIR FRASER October 1 1966

Hate

As the material on the facing page shows, the pamphleteers of hate are busier than ever. How can we stop them without limiting free speech? It’s a tricky legalistic problem, but Ottawa’s solved it. And soon hate-mongering like this may be outlawed across the country. BLAIR FRASER reports

BLAIR FRASER October 1 1966

Hate

As the material on the facing page shows, the pamphleteers of hate are busier than ever. How can we stop them without limiting free speech? It’s a tricky legalistic problem, but Ottawa’s solved it. And soon hate-mongering like this may be outlawed across the country. BLAIR FRASER reports

BLAIR FRASER

BY NEXT YEAR at the latest, if not this fall, many of the pieces of hate literature you see here will be illegal under Canadian law. Prime Minister Pearson gave an assurance at a press conference in August that the government will be bringing down a bill to make “hate propaganda” a crime. He didn’t say what form the legislation would take, but it will probably be an addition to the Criminal Code on the lines recommended last year by a special committee chaired by Maxwell Cohen, QC, dean of law at McGill University.

The Cohen committee was appointed by Guy Favreau, then minister ot justice, in January, 1965. It reported last November 10. The report was not tabled in the House of Commons until April 4, and as late as May 30 the prime minister told the House that another committee (of Justice Department officials this time) was still studying the Cohen report and preparing its own report for the cabinet. The cabinet would in turn study the officials’ report in due course, and then decide what to do.

Why has it taken so long to enact something which, apparently, all parties approve in principle?

Apparently the difficulty has been one of precise definition. It’s easy to say “there ought to be a law” to forbid neo-Nazi rantings against Jews, Negroes, Roman Catholics or whoever, which so often provoke the target groups into violent reaction, and which anyway are an obvious abuse of ordinary freedom of speech. The problem is to frame this definition in such a way that it won’t also forbid, say, a Diefenbaker broadside against the nasty old Liberals or a Pickersgill blast at the despised Tories — or, more seriously, a heated but rational attack on the Communist Chinese, the atheistic Russians, or any ethnic pressure group in Canada.

The Cohen committee’s suggested way out of this dilemma was to break the offense into two kinds, one much more serious than the other. The graver of the two was defined thus:

“Everyone who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for five years.”

Genocide, unlike such vague abstract nouns as “obscenity” and “sedition,” can be precisely defined. The definition suggested in the Cohen report is killing the members of any identifiable group, imposing upon them conditions that would cause their physical destruction, or “deliberately imposing measures intended to prevent births within such a group.” And “identifiable group” is defined as “any section of the public distinguished by religion, color, race, language, ethnic or national origin.”

Freedom of speech could not be impaired by this prohibition. the Cohen committee said, because “there is no social interest in protecting any variety of such advocacy. The prohibition would be absolute because the act is wrong

absolutely, i.e., in all circumstances, degrees, times and ways.”

In case anyone should think that forbidding the advocacy of genocide is a mere gesture, since nobody, now that Hitler is dead, would be mad enough to advocate it, the Cohen commission quotes a piece of hate literature mailed out of Scarborough, Ont., in 1964 over the signature of a “Colonel” J. P. Fry, national organizer for Canada of the National White Americans Party. After saying, “We believe in sending all Negroes back to Africa whence they came,” the broadsheet goes on:

“On the Jewish Question our policy is much stricter. We demand the arrest of all Jews involved in Communist or Zionist plots, public trials and executions. All other Jews would be immediately sterilized so that they could not breed more Jews.”

Obviously, liberty would not suffer by the suppression of this kind of lunacy.

The Cohen committee suggested making it an offense, punishable by up to two years in jail, to “incite hatred or contempt against any identifiable group, where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.” The inciter would thus be the guilty party, even if the breach of the peace were committed by the group he was slandering, as has happened at neo-Nazi rallies in Toronto.

This sort of thing is a lot trickier. It recalls the famous case of Boucher vs. The King in 1950 and 1951, when after two separate hearings the Supreme Court of Canada quashed the conviction of a Quebec Witness of Jehovah who had been convicted in his own province of “seditious libel” for distributing the Witnesses’ tract, Quebec’s Burning Hate For God And Christ And Freedom. Mr. Justice Ivan Rand, in his judgment directing the acquittal of the accused Boucher, said:

“Freedom in thought and speech and disagreement in ideas and beliefs, on every conceivable subject, are of the essence of our life. The clash of critical discussion on political, social and religious subjects has become too deeply the stuff of daily experience to suggest that mere ill-will, as a product of controversy, can strike down the latter with illegality.”

How the cabinet is going to get around this difficulty we shall not know until the legislation is introduced.

Many private bills against hate literature have been introduced in the House of Commons in recent years by members of several parties. Some of these measures would make “group defamation” a crime, which now it is not. Others would tighten the law already existing against use of the mails for distributing “scurrilous” literature. Still others would provide not only for punishment but also for the issuance of injunctions against the utterance of hate propaganda in any form. Principles of these bills may or may not be adopted in the legislation to be sponsored by the government. ★