NOWC Coordinator Gwen O’Reilly sent the following letter to the Chronicle-Journal in response to a racist ad for Libertarian Tamara Johnson. The ad ran earlier this week in the local daily newspaper:

I am writing with regard to the Chronicle Journal’s decision to publish a racist campaign ad for Tamara Johnson.  I would like to remind the publishers and the public that Canada has legal provisions in both Criminal and Human Rights Codes that prohibit Hate Speech.

I do not know the Chronicle Journal’s policies regarding publishing material that incites hatred and denies documented historical and ongoing discrimination against any particular group of people.  But, I wonder if Ms. Johnson‘s platform had centred around denial of the Holocaust, instead of the inherent and legal rights of Aboriginal people, if they would have found it “simply a matter of a business relationship”.

Section 319 of the Criminal Code defines “public incitement or willful promotion of hatred” as indictable offences:

(1) Every one who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace….

(2) Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group…

By unanimous decision in February of 2013, Canada’s Supreme Court upheld these hate speech laws as “a reasonable limit on freedom of expression” for the public good.  Following are excerpts from that decision, regarding the distribution of homophobic printed materials.

“The expression portrays the targeted group as a menace that threatens the safety and well-being of others, makes reference to respected sources in an effort to lend credibility to the negative generalizations, and uses vilifying and derogatory representations to create a tone of hatred.” “Hate speech is an effort to marginalize individuals based on their membership in a group. Using expression that exposes the group to hatred, hate speech seeks to de-legitimize group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society. Hate speech, therefore, rises beyond causing distress to individual group members. It can have a societal impact.”

“Hate speech lays the groundwork for later, broad attacks on vulnerable groups that can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide.”

We still have a long way to go, but there are now at least some efforts underway to address long standing racism and other forms of discrimination in Thunder   Bay – it seems to me that media outlets such as the Chronicle Journal should support those efforts in word, deed and policy.

Gwen O’Reilly


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