BC Attorney General, Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh, sent the news media into a frenzy last Friday when he announced that he had instructed his Task Force on Hate Crimes to investigate whether anything could be done about the spread of hate on the Internet. In a follow-up interview, he elaborated his three-pronged approach, saying the Task Force was to investigate:
Mr. Dosanjh was responding to complaints from people like Sol Littman, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who says the small town of Oliver, B.C. has become the ``hate capital of Canada'', because of controversial web pages. (see http://www.ftcnet.com)
- whether complaints could be filed under the BC Human Rights Act, or the Canadian Human Rights Act,
- whether complaints could be filed under the Criminal Code's so-called hate propaganda provisions (sections 318 and 319)
- whether steps could be taken to regulate the Internet
In the few days since the announcement, Electronic Frontier Canada has done a little investigating of its own. Here is just a sampling of what it has uncovered.
The BC Press Council, according to Executive Secretary Gerald Porter, has on several occasions made it clear that it considers the BC Human Rights Act to be a seriously flawed piece of legislation that unreasonably infringes on the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and so on. Some people speculate that the BC Council on Human Rights has purposely chosen to avoid hearings on these issues because Press Council lawyers are poised to take them to the BC Supreme Court and prove the Act unconstitutional.
The Canadian Human Rights Act, while including a provision that enables the regulation of hateful messages delivered by automated telephone answering systems, also has no effective jurisdiction over the Internet, according to Harvey Goldberg, a Policy Director with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Ottawa.
According to Sgt. Arnie Ziegler, who is with the RCMP office in the small town of Oliver, B.C., there have been no complaints filed, no instructions from the BC Attorney General's office, and there is no investigation into the promotion of hate on the Internet -- or anything else related to the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code. With this in mind, it hardly seems accurate when Sol Littman of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre calls this small town of 5,000 residents ``the hate capital of Canada''.
Given that all of his proposed avenues of dealing with so-called `hate on the Internet' seem to lead very quickly to dead ends, it will be interesting to see how the BC Attorney General will proceed on this issue. ``To me'', says Jones, ``it seems nothing short of irresponsible to give people a false impression that the government can control how people choose to express themselves. I think it would be a serious mistake to encourage British Columbians to go to the trouble of filing formal complaints to control other people's expressions when those complaints are doomed to failure. It can only lead to a sense of frustration.''
``It's time to get beyond the simple observation that hate is offensive'', says Jones. ``I challenge the BC Attorney General's office to come up with a specific example of a Web page on a BC computer that it considers illegal.''
Richard Rosenberg, EFC vice-president and computer science professor at UBC, echoed this sentiment in a letter he wrote to Attorney General Dosanjh written earlier this week, ``If there is sufficient evidence that material on a Web site violates the existing laws then charges should be laid. On the other hand, I do not think we should cavalierly dismiss speech that we find unpleasant, even racist, sexist, or hateful, as falling outside the protection of free speech.''
Electronic Frontier fights censorship on the Internet
Globe & Mail, July 23, 1996 (Derek Winkler)
Can they muzzle your modem?
article posted to efc-talk on January 5, 1995 by David Jones
Do not cavalierly dismiss freedom of speech
letter from EFC's Richard Rosenberg to BC Attorney General Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh
Not responsible for content, but willing to review specifically identified web pages
July 22nd letter from Fairview Tech's Bernard Klatt to BC Attorney General Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh
Sol Littmann suffers from Ostrich Syndrome
press release, 23jul96, by Ken McVay of the Nizkor Project
Not obligated to carry controversial subscribers
July 16th letter from Simon Wiesenthal Center's Sol Littman to Fairview Tech's Bernard Klatt
Censorship, Cyberspace, and the Center
OpEd article by Mark Weitzman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in the wake of the Deutsche Telekom blocking access to "hate" web pages in early 1996.
The Great White North
Netizen (Hotwired), July 29, 1996. (Declan McCullagh)
Serving racists proves costly
Penticton Herald, July 26, 1996. (CP)
'Skinheads' using Oliver web server
Oliver Chronicle, July 24, 1996. (Kathleen Connolly)
Hate capital of Canada?
Oliver Chronicle, July 24, 1996. (Michael Newman)
Racist controversy engulfs B.C. Internet provider
Vancouver Sun, July 24, 1996. (Jeff Lee)
No room for hate pushers online
Ottawa Sun, July 24, 1996. (Rob Hall)
Oliver man stands by decision to give groups an outlet for material branded racist
Pentiction Herald, July 23, 1996. (Bob Munro)
B.C. Internet provider is the largest Canadian site for racist material
Vancouver Sun, July 19, 1996. (Jeff Lee)
Hate on Internet investigated
Vancouver Sun, July 19, 1996.
Tribunal a threat to free speech
Victoria Times Colonist, June 11, 1996. (Gerald Porter)
The Honourable Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh
Attorney General for British Columbia
phone: (604) 387-1866 (main office)
phone: (604) 387-9548 (media liason, Brent Thompson)
Ministry of the Attorney General
phone: (604) 356-5751
Senior Policy Analyst
Hate-Motivated Activities Initiative
phone: (604) 387=5004
BC Council of Human Rights
phone: (604) 387-3710
BC Press Council
phone: (604) 683-2571
Canadian Human Rights Commission
phone: (613) 943-9090, fax: (613) 996-9661
Sgt. Arnie Ziegler
RCMP - Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Oliver, B.C. office
phone: (604) 498-3422
Fairview Technology Center, Ltd.
in Oliver, B.C.
phone: (604) 498-4316
phone: (416) 465-6825
phone: (604) ???-????
CRTC - Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
phone: (819) 997-0313
Simon Wiesenthal Center
phone: (416) 864-9735
Canadian Jewish Congress
phone: (416) 635-2883
B'nai Brith, League for Human Rights
phone: (416) 633-6224