Enforcing hate laws online presents a challenge

To date, Ontario has not yet pursued an Internet-based case, wrote the National Post June 30 in a story about difficulties with Section 319(2) of the Criminal Code [which deals with spreading hate propaganda]. Convictions have been won against Web site operators in other provinces though, despite unique problems that arise on the Internet, where anonymity is the norm, audiences are unclear, Web sites can be hacked, passwords can be shared and many messages appear for only a moment before vanishing forever down a rabbit hole, wrote the Post.

“It’s normally discussed in legal circles as an enforcement challenge,” said Bruce Ryder, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Drafted in the 1960s at the height of the post-war human rights movement, Ryder said Section 319(2) has generally fared well since hate propaganda moved from printed flyers and telephone hotlines to Internet chat rooms.

The main current problem is not the law’s constitutionality, he said, nor a shortage of cases that deserve it, but whether it can actually be effective against the proliferation of online hate propaganda, much of it anonymous or international.

Osgoode dean welcomes judicial criticisms of CSIS

“The Federal Court has traditionally had a reputation of being a bit too deferential to the federal government so here they’re really striking out in a rather different way,” said Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in a Toronto Star story June 30 about judicial criticisms of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS) handling of a terrorism law case. “It’s good to see that court standing up in that way. I think it’s a sign that court at least is willing to take on the government even on these controversial issues.”

Pension ruling is consistent with others, says Monahan

Former Hydro One CEO Eleanor Clitheroe has lost her bid to get a sweetened pension plan of $33,644 a month after a judge held that her Charter rights were not violated when the Ontario government introduced a bill to limit pension payouts at the electricity giant. Instead, the former chief executive will have to live on $25,637 a month when she turns 65, wrote the National Post June 30.

Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said it “was not terribly surprising” the judge dismissed the Charter arguments because it dealt with private contractual rights in a pension plan. “I think this is consistent with the approach courts have taken in other cases involving [Charter Section 7], where there has been an attempt to protect what the courts regard as purely economic interest.”

Middle East conference anything but academic

I hesitated whether to accept the invitation to participate in the conference at York University on models of statehood in Israel/Palestine, wrote Na’ama Carmi, law professor at Israel’s University of Haifa, in the Toronto Star online June 30.

Such conferences, even when organized with goodwill, are frequently hijacked and become anti-Israeli events. However, the dilemma is always whether to leave the floor only to the most extreme and one-sided views or to try to bring a different voice, one that attempts to display the complexity of the situation and presents a perspective that would not be presented if one were to stay away.

Not in my worst dreams did I imagine an atmosphere that was totally incompatible with academic discourse. The University rightly resisted outside pressures aimed at silencing the conference. But there were attempts at the conference itself to silence unpopular views.

The Palestinians’ pain and rage are understandable. But what happened at York University reflects a worrying, dangerous and, unfortunately, not uncommon pattern. Persons who demand the protection of human rights abandon them and display little tolerance for the views of others when they have the power to marginalize them. This provides food for thought. Surely such tolerance would be a sine qua non in the liberal democratic state that many participants in the conference purport to support.

The universities that sponsored this conference should give themselves an accounting. While the JDL (Jewish Defence League) demonstrated outside the campus, a pro-Palestinian demonstration took place inside the conference itself, from the floor, under an academic disguise.

On air

  • Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about effects of a strike by Windsor’s outside workers on people’s garbage habits on CBC Radio (Windsor) June 29.