Hate Speech Provision of the Federal Human Rights Act Repealed

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On July 26, 2013, Bill C-304, An Act to Amend the Canadian Human Rights Act (Protecting Freedom) passed the Senate and received Royal Assent. The Act repeals section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which made hate messages against a protected group under the Act a discriminatory practice and subject to a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Anti-discrimination hate speech laws have been the subject of much public and academic debate and, ultimately, judicial review. In Canada (Human Rights Commission) v Warman, the Federal Court of Canada upheld section 13 as constitutional notwithstanding an earlier decision of the CHRT striking it down. The Warman decision was followed by Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v Whatcott, where the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutionality of a similar provision in The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code (Derek Bell and Ranjan Agarwal of Bennett Jones LLP were counsel to the intervener Christian Legal Fellowship in that case).

Though there may have been some question whether Parliament would proceed with Bill C-304 once the courts upheld section 13 and similar provisions, the train had apparently and proverbially left the station. For the most part though, the federal Act joins the majority: only B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan still prohibit hate speech in their anti-discrimination laws.