Robyn Benson, PSAC

Recess time

House of Commons empty.JPG

The House of Commons may have risen for its long summer recess, but the Senate creaks on, and will for some time longer.

Besides five government bills, a couple of other loose ends—two “private member’s bills”—are keeping the Senate in session. I place the phrase in quotation marks because, under the Harper government, private member’s bills are often thinly-disguised government bills, snuck in through the back door to avoid the usual scrutiny. Since the Conservatives have been in power, there has been a record number of these so-called “private member’s bills.”

One of these two bills presently under consideration in the chamber of sober second thought is C-304, which would remove Section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights Act. This section forbids the use of the telephone or the Internet to communicate hate speech. Removing it would effectively permit a freer hand to haters of all sorts to target their favourite minorities. Indeed, the bigots are already neighing and stomping at the starting-gate.

There are hate speech provisions in the Criminal Code, as defenders of this bill will be quick to tell you—Section 319. But the criminal standard of proof is much higher than that required in a civil procedure such as the Human Rights Tribunal process. On top of that, accessing Section 319 requires the consent of the Attorney General in the province or territory affected.

A recent case in Ontario highlights the problem. A talk-show host on a conservative television network broadcast a hateful eight-minute rant attacking Roma people, whom he called “Gypsies.” A complaint under the Criminal Code was duly made, the police were prepared to charge the host, and the regional Crown was ready to go as well. But the Ontario Attorney General, John Gerretson, refused to give his consent to proceed. It appears that he may have been cowed by the TV personality in question, which, if true, is shameful.

The repeal of Section 13, with Section 319 of the Criminal Code having become more or less a dead letter, will make public bigotry effectively legal once again, as it was half a century ago. Our future under this government, it seems, is the dubious past.

The second bill is C-377, a discriminatory anti-union initiative that I’ve blogged about before. Constitutional experts have been speaking out almost unanimously against the measure, with only one former judge dissenting—whose client happens to be the anti-union “Merit” organization. The Privacy Commissioner doesn’t like it either. And C-377 seems to have run into a few roadblocks in the Senate, with even some Conservative Senators expressing strong misgivings about it.

But what Harper wants of his caucus, Harper tends to get. The Senate may not all be trained seals, but the Prime Minister has installed a majority of them, and the sound of barking and flipper-flapping can be deafening in the Red Chamber. Barring a last-minute miracle, the bill will pass—and the labour movement will have to have it struck down by the courts.

A sorry end it will be to a dismal sitting of Parliament—perhaps the most divisive, destructive, hyper-partisan, scandal-ridden session in Canadian history. Interesting times, indeed: and they aren’t nearly over yet.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on June 20, 2013 8:30 AM.

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