The World Wide Web, otherwise known as the internet, has provided a universal platform for communication and expression, the biggest ever seen. The internet enables all individuals to use forms of expressions- text, images, voice, audio, and video to communicate with others on the same global platform. Although seen as a forum for free speech and a ‘law-free zone’, in reality, speech on the internet is subject to a wide variety of discrimination and hate speech.
Both Canada and the United States of America, have conflicting ideals between the Law and the Internet, with regards to individual rights and freedoms. The need to regulate speech and restrict activity on the internet, can be shown through both nations’ struggle with dividing free speech and hate speech. Both Canada and the United States must warn users that if the internet is where they choose to speak out, then there is a need to be aware of what is said and possible consequences that can follow.
Throughout examining current legislations, social sites, public views and cases from both nations it can be proven that Canada is superior with regards to freedom of speech on the internet. Since being born the World Wide Web has brought about the controversy and conflicting ideals between members of the world and the law. Both Canada and the United States, have legislations protecting those who choose to speak on the internet and those who choose to view it. Both countries’ laws play a role in what is said, expressed and viewed on the internet creating a framework to protect citizens of each country. To begin, Canada has had an ongoing battle between Canadian statues and internet users.
The main statues protecting users of the internet are the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, The Canadian Criminal Code, and The Canadian Human Rights Act. This ‘battle’ revolves around Canada’s speech freedoms, as outlined in each citizen’s fundamental rights within the country. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, born in 1982, is a statutory legislation meant to protect all Canadian citizens’ rights and freedoms. Section 2(b) of this Charter, states “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication” Though it is believed that by having such a sentence on our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms all are protected from any prosecution of speech on the internet, this is where the law and internet users collide. The Canadian Law has implemented the Reasonable Limits Clause, as outlined in Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, stating “1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Essentially this legislation gives the Canadian Government the full right to limit all Canadians’ Rights and Freedoms outlined in this Charter, as nothing is guaranteed.
To expand, the Criminal Code is a statue in Canadian Law that plays a very large role in regulating internet use and expression. When using the internet, we agree to be vulnerable and open to the World Wide Web in which we choose to access. The Criminal Code of Canada sets out to protect citizens from individual harm or suffrage, including virtually. The Criminal code applies laws such as Section 318 prohibiting the promotion of terrorism, most of which is now executed on the internet.
Other sections protect victims of the internet from issues such as defamation and slander of character, cyberbullying, child pornography and harassment via the internet. Moreover, the Canadian Human Rights Act is a statute passed by the Canadian Government in 1977, enacted to promote equality amongst all individuals throughout Canada. The Human Rights Act is violated when “posts or messages that spread hate or discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or disability.” This Act has helped to prosecute many for their crimes both on and off the internet, it sets out to ensure all Canadian’s basic human rights are protected.
The Human Rights Tribunal is where cases are to be tried in front of “a maximum of fifteen members, including a Chairperson and a Vice-chairperson, as may be appointed by the Governor in Council.” All three of these Statue legislations set out to protect Canadian Citizens from any harm or injustice. Comparatively, the United States of America has a judicial system of laws including the First Amendment, set out to protect US citizens of their individual rights and freedoms within the country. The First Amendment of the US Constitution, adopted in 1791, “guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.” With regards to freedom of speech the First Amendment also states “It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely.” Though this amendment is in place, there is a struggle to restrict citizens from taking advantage of such a right. Along with the First Amendment to protect those who choose to speak on the internet, there are Censorship laws in place to protect those who view the media. Censorship laws are defined as ” the government’s act of banning or altering media, speech, or performances, generally based on the presumption that such materials are, or will be, offensive or dangerous to the public.
” This law was put into place to protect viewers and users of the World Wide Web, ensuring their rights are not infringed upon. The only issue is, the two laws protecting those who speak and view the internet conflict. Censorship laws work to protect those who view all forms of media and internet, whereas, the First Amendment works to protect those who wish to express themselves via the internet. Creating a ‘loop hole’ for perpetrators of cyber cruelty of all forms, including hate speech and cyber bullying via the internet and social sites. Communication, that can bare violence, on the internet is done predominantly on social media and social websites, leaving countries such as Canada and the US distraught with how to address such issues. Hate speech is a result of individuals’ belief of entitlement to free speech, leading them to express themselves in all forms, further abusing such a right.
When discussing the controversial topic of free speech on the internet, it is important to note the legal ‘line’ that is drawn between free and hate speech when expressing ourselves on the internet. This ‘line’ that continues to be crossed has brought about a national outcry for action. Both the United States and Canada struggle to address hateful communication, but when comparing the two nations the United States struggles more in terms of speech on the internet. To begin, Canada is not innocent to hate speech, with citizens threatening issues on social media, the nation does have its fair share of hate speech, leaving the public no choice but to demand action. With cyber violence continuing to grow lawyers such as David Grossman, working at Irving Mitchell Kalichman LLP in Montreal, are left demanding for further action and regulation of current legislations.
In an interview with The Canadian Lawyer Mr.Grossman outlines the legal concerns of the internet, stating “Instead of challenging people by exposing them to new thoughts, the Internet just gives them an infinite reservoir from which they can confirm the beliefs they already have.” He later went on to state that “People seek out self-affirming ideas and comments that are harmless until these ideas turn from critique to defamation or hate speech.” He is one of many working to try and showcase these legal concerns surrounding the internet, hoping to convince the government to consider policy changes. The Canadian government is aware of this outcry for reforms when discussing free speech and is currently working to resolve such issues.
The need for reforms and regulations to be enforced across such a global platform, is owed to those who fall victim to hate speech on the internet. Unlike the United States, Canada has Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, limiting all citizens’ rights, allowing them to punish and prosecute those who wish to create such hostile speech on the internet. Moreover, the United States is in the most need of policy changes, because of the current legislative protection of perpetrators of cyber violence. The United States, struggles with not only social media sites but also, websites that promote hate and violence towards specific ethnic or religious groups. For example, a white pride site based out of the United States, Stormfront, boasts over twelve million posts and over three-hundred and thirty thousand registered members, encouraging violence toward racial and ethnic minorities as acts of collective preservation of the white race.
Since the election of the new president, Donald Trump, there has been a national rise of hate speech specifically on the well-known social site, Twitter. The turbulent election has helped to ‘fan the fire’ of racism, homophobia, sexism and bigotry. In a recent article published by USA Today, editor Jessica Guynn writes “Hate speech that typically resides in the dark recesses of the Internet has bubbled into the mainstream and onto Twitter, a popular online hangout for journalists and politicians such as Trump, who has millions of followers there. Because people don’t have to use their real names on the service, they can attack people of color, women, Muslims and other groups with relatively little risk.” Yet even now, the broad First Amendment is still the framework that best protects ethnic and religious minority groups, proving the need for further reforms. With a public outcry for justice and reforms, there is a need to look at previous cases to address concerns and issues regarding free speech on the internet. With the continued growth of the internet, the world has watched as both Canada and the USA took action to prosecute those who choose to violently speakout on the internet. As a result, Canada has had few cases with connection to free speech on the internet, but rather free speech in general, setting model for future legal cases and generations.
Canada v. Taylor, a freedom of expression case, was brought to the court, alleging that John Ross Taylor and the Western Guard Party repeatedly communicated hate messages via the telephone. Taylor and the Western Guard Party were found guilty in the production of recorded messages exposing the Jewish religion to racial hatred and contempt. Taylor and the Western Guard Party produced recorded messages which played to those who called a number listed under “White Power Message” in the Toronto telephone book. Taylor later appealed this verdict to the Supreme Court of Canada, stating that although he was found guilty by the Human Rights Tribunal under s.
13 of the Human Rights Act, he is protected by s.2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms proving such verdict is a violation of his charter rights. Ultimately the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that his conviction under s.13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was not a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Cases like Canada v. Taylor help to set precedent for those who are being prosecuted in the courts, it helps not only those who are possibly being wrongfully accused but those who are victims in such cases.
Secondly, one of the most widely known Canadian cases R. v. Keegstra sets precedent for Canadians who wish to express themselves in any form. James Keegstra had been teaching anti-semitism to his students in Alberta for over 14 years.
Eventually a parent complained to the local school board, leading Keegstra’s story to receive international attention, in 1984, with the world watching Keegstra was convicted under Canada’s hate crime laws. The case was appealed, with Keegstra’s lawyer arguing that the law was unconstitutional because it violated Charter provisions of expression. The verdict of the case was eventually decided, with a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court stating that the Criminal Code section did infringe on the Charter — but that infringement was justified — and the court upheld Keegstra’s conviction. Both these cases, set out lessons to be followed by future generations to come as they set an example of the consequences of expressing our thoughts whether it be verbally or virtually.