OTTAWA (Dec. 13)
The Canadian Supreme Court upheld the validity of the country’s anti-hate laws Thursday.
In their landmark 4-3 decision, the justices found that although the statute may technically violate the constitution’s freedom of expression clause, there should be a “reasonable limit” on freedom of speech in a just society.
The federal anti-hate law is reasonably and demonstrably justified and therefore will be allowed to stand “in the interests” of a free and democratic society, Canada’s highest tribunal decided.
The Canadian Jewish Congress and the provinces of Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and New Brunswick had argued that the law is essential in a multicultural society.
The League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada applauded the decision but, according to its counsel, David Matas, it remains “convinced that the present law is not strong enough.”
Specifically, the League said, Holocaust denial should be covered under the Criminal Code and certain available defenses should be removed.
The League, along with Inter Amicus, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, were interveners in two cases where the anti-hate law was invoked.
The validity of the legislation had been challenged before the court by former Eckville, Alberta, high-school teacher Jim Keegstra and by Donald Andrews and Robert Smith of the white supremacist Nationalist Party.
Keegstra was convicted in 1983 of promoting hatred of Jews in the social studies classes he taught.
Andrews and Smith were convicted under the same section of the Criminal Code for publishing the National Reporter, a limited circulation publication which claimed that non-whites were “inferior, unclean and responsible for violent crime.”
Jack Silverstone, CJC national executive director and general counsel, said the decision affirmed the legislation as “an important tool in the ongoing battle against racism and hatred.”