Quebec’s Bill 59 is titled “An Act to enact the Act to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence and to amend various legislative provisions to better protect individuals“. Many of the bill’s provisions should cause concern and attention for Quebec residents and secularists from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Human Rights actions in one province often set precedents for other jurisdictions. Following are just a few details from Bill 59 which may require further study and examination from the perspective of committed secularists or persons concerned with freedom of expression in Quebec and indeed, across Canada.
At 17 pages in length Bill 59, if passed, will amend no fewer than 8 existing legislative tools from the Civil Code of Quebec through to the Education Act and the Youth Protection Act. Introduced by Madame Stephanie Valle, Minister of Justice of Quebec, the primary purpose of the bill is stated to “prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence.” The second purpose of the bill is stated as intending to “introduce measure to better protect individuals” by amending procedures for notices of solemnization. The bill also introduces “a new type of injunction, called a protection order, in civil procedure matters.”
Whether the second purpose of Bill 59 is relevant to a hate-speech act is very questionable and examination of the proposals of that section are initially set aside pending further examination.
Section 3: allows reporting of hate speech that hasn’t occurred but is anticipated. This is a problematic scenario, bringing not just actual free expression into question but potential future expressions into question – in effect becoming a limiter on people’s intentions to speak in the future (emphasis added by CFIC here):
Any person who is aware of hate speech or speech inciting violence being engaged in or disseminated can report it to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse by providing any information the person considers useful as proof. The person can also report any situation that could contravene the prohibitions in section 2, in particular if the person has knowledge that such speech is about to be engaged in or disseminated or if the person has been asked to engage in or disseminate such speech.
Section 17: carries troubling record-keeping and publication details of the act. The third item of Section 17 sets forth a proposed public record of those who have contravened this proposed legislation.
17. For the purposes of this Act, the Commission also
(1) plays a preventive and educational role in combatting hate speech and speech inciting violence;
(2) makes recommendations to the Government on any measure for preventing and combatting hate speech and speech inciting violence; and
(3) maintains an up-to-date list of persons who have been the subject of a decision concluding that they contravened a prohibition under section 2 and makes the list available on its website.
Section 19: addresses options to force cessation of activities.
For the purposes of this Act, the Human Rights Tribunal performs the duties and exercises the powers conferred on it by the Charter of human rights and freedoms, with the necessary modifications. In addition, the Tribunal may, at any time and at the Commission’s request, order a person to stop engaging in or disseminating hate speech or speech inciting violence or to stop acting in such a manner as to cause such speech to be engaged in or disseminated.
Section 20: stipulates fines to be paid at between $1,000 and $10,000 with doubling if a prior contravention has occurred. The relative fairness of these fines and doubling of fines based on prior convictions is something Quebec residents should be critical of. It is not inconceivable for an individual or organization to be charged on separate and unrelated matters, so this doubling down may be an unfair penalty scheme.
Section 23: deals with the new injunction and carries the following language and should be closely scrutinized for its capacity to created legal precedent not only within the scope of the act but in other areas of law. Any new tool implemented by a government is cause for deep consideration not only for its intended effects but also unintended usages:
“Such an injunction may enjoin a natural person not to do or to cease doing something or to perform a particular act in order to protect another natural person whose life, health or safety is endangered. Such an injunction, called a protection order, may be obtained, in particular, in a context of violence, for example, violence based on a concept of honour, or a context of hate speech or speech inciting violence. A protection order may only be issued for such time and on such conditions as determined by the court, without however exceeding three years.”
Section 24: introduces language to protect the “physical and emotional safety of students”. This language is potentially very problematic for those who have been investigated under this proposed legislation (whether successfully charged or not)
A person whose name is on the list kept by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse under the Act to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence ( insert the year and chapter number of this Act and the number of the section of this Act that enacts the Act to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence) is considered to exhibit behaviour that could reasonably pose a threat for the physical or emotional safety of the students.
Section 33 inserts the words “excessive control after emotional rejection” in the Youth Protection Act.
Bill 59 is a problematic proposal which implements measures that may easily be abused or misused by groups interested to stifle criticism of religion or religious figures. It is important to investigate not only the interplay between sections of the act itself, but also their effect-on and interaction-with the other legislation. For example, this proposed legislation is subject to precedents and definitions established in prior rulings by The Supreme Court of Canada and other relevant federal legislation. These legal precedents would be sources on such matters as the definition and scope of hate speech.
Another example of the problematic complexity of this proposed bill is in the interplay of the separate sections. If a person or organization is accused through Sections 2 and/or 3 and has their name added to the list described in Section 17, how might that relate to Section 24’s notation that the organization or person may be “considered to exhibit behaviour that could reasonable pose a threat for the physical or emotional safety of the students.”?
CFIC will continue to monitor and inquire into the details of Bill 59. As an educational charity, we have a mandate to provide information regarding the application of secularism to Canadians. While Bill 59 purports to avoid penalizing genuine education, it is not clear what measures will be used to validate education provided by secularist organizations such as CFIC.
Should you wish to get involved with this issue, we encourage you to connect with an organization in your community. Local organizations active on this issue can be found in the Further Inquiry section below.
Should you wish to learn more about Bill 59, CFIC recommends the following references and perspectives.
1. Paul Marshall’s book Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide