Hate crime book says legal, policy deliberation is microcosm for larger debate

Hate crime laws in Canada are distressing, highly charged and complicated. Under the hate propaganda sections of the Criminal Code of Canada (Sections 318 to 320), it is illegal to advocate genocide and publicly incite hatred directed against “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or mental or physical disability.”

In sentencing, the court will consider evidence that an offence was “motivated by bias, prejudice or hate on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression, or any other similar factor” to be an aggravating factor in determining sentence [Section 718.2(i)].

In her new book, Lunny argues that debates in Parliament reflect those in wider society

Professor Allyson M. Lunny, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, has published a book, Debating Hate Crime: Language, Legislatures, and the Law in Canada (2017), that delves into this complexity. She sheds light on a particular area for the first time: the language that parliamentarians, senators and committee witnesses use to debate Canada’s hate laws. She argues that the debates that take place during law reform and policy formation in Canada are, in fact, a microcosm for debates in wider society.

Allyson M. Lunny and her new book. Cover image reproduced with permission of the publisher, UBC Press

“I wanted to explore how words, expressions and metaphors used in public debate get to the root of the concerns, fears and anxieties of Canadian lawmakers and expert witnesses,” Lunny explained. “The language of debate in Parliament is a curious thing. It is literally a sign of the times,” she added.

Hate crime in Canada on the rise

This is, indeed, a timely issue. Hate crimes are on the rise in Canada. According to Statistics Canada (StatsCan), police services reported 1,409 hate crimes in Canada in 2016 – 47 more than in 2015. This three per cent was related to an increase in incidents targeting people based on their sexual orientation, religion and ethnic background.

It is notable that many hate crimes are not reported; the (un)willingness of the victim to bring the crime to the attention of the police should be considered when looking at statistics.

Number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada, 2009-16 (Statistics Canada)

Book uses critical lens, considers key topics relevant to debate

This contentious topic is clearly in Lunny’s wheelhouse. She is a social scientist in York’s Law and Society program. Her research areas include sexuality, law and justice, hate crimes/hate speech, the law and popular culture.

The book, part of UBC Press’ Law and Society Series, tackles the subject of debating hate crimes through five key cases or chapters:

  • hate propaganda and the spectre of the Holocaust;
  • the enhanced sentencing provision of the Criminal Code: Bill C-41, which listed hate motivation as an aggravating factor at sentencing;
  • Bill C-250, which sought to add “sexual orientation” to the list of protected groups under Canada’s hate crime laws. (Here, Lunny explores the resistance of parliamentary members to add “sexual orientation” to the list of protected groups);
  • the “bathroom bill” (Bill C-16), which provides legal protection for transgender Canadians from discrimination and hate crimes; and
  • the repeal of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, prohibiting the telephonic communication of hate messages.

Book adds new dimension to public debates

Importantly, Lunny provides context and exposes language that supports or resists hate crime protections for vulnerable communities. Debating Hate Crime uses a critical lens to consider how attitudes, expressed through language around hate crimes, have evolved over the years.

This book taps into the social and political undercurrents of Canadian society. “It is an engagement with, and an inquiry into, the ways in which legislative debates have represented and reproduced hate within the undercurrents of Canadian political identity,” Lunny said.

Lunny’s book discusses the “bathroom bill” that provides legal protection for transgender Canadians from discrimination and hate crimes

“Literally, of course, these government forums are not the scene of hate crimes, but they are the scene of passionate exchanges, heated engagements and often bizarre fantasies of the citizen subject that revolve around the signifier ‘hate’ guised in a civilized form of democratic debate,” she explained.

This new book also adds a new dimension to public debates on victimization, rightful citizenship, social threat and moral erosion. Sociolegal scholars and members of the public, as well as law- and policy-makers, will be keenly interested in this new and highly original publication.

To read more about Debating Hate Crime, visit the publisher’s website. To read about the Law and Society Series, visit the series website. To learn more about Lunny, visit her faculty profile page.

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By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca