Recent moves by the federal government to address hate groups and online hate speech has civil liberty advocates concerned that political considerations could be overriding the rule of law.
John Carpay, founder and president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, believes the government has shown bias by its lack of condemnation of leftist groups’ often violent activism following the death of George Floyd last May in contrast to its willingness to take action in response to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“Ideally in a free society, if people believed in the rule of law, they would denounce both the storming of the Congress as well as the many violent, destructive riots throughout 2020,” Carpay said.
“Yet through their silence, it seems that the federal government is not afraid of the arson and looting and killing that took place during all these other marches. So that’s a big problem when people take a political rather than a principled approach.”
On Jan. 25, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh introduced a motion to “use all available tools to address the proliferation of white supremacists and hate groups starting with immediately designating the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity.” The motion received unanimous support in the House of Commons.
The federal government was already considering the designation four days after the breach of Capitol Hill.
On Feb. 3, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair declared the Proud Boys and three other groups as terrorist organizations. “Canada will not tolerate ideological, religious, or politically motivated acts of violence,” Blair said at a press conference.
At the same time, he noted in particular that the decision was not political in nature even though it was being made just weeks after the Jan. 6 incident.
“Certainly, the events of Jan. 6 and the great public concern arising from that unsurprisingly did initiate a political response. But this process of listing a group as a terrorist entity cannot be political. It has to be based entirely on evidence, intelligence, and the law.”
The designation of a group as terrorist gives the government sweeping powers, including the ability to seize a group’s assets. John Robson, a professor of history at Augustine University and an Epoch Times contributor, said the approach goes against English common law traditions.
“The idea of prior restraint and proscription and simply declaring people outlaws by an act of the minister—it is incredible to me that such things could happen and could happen uncontroversially. The Proud Boys are declared a terrorist group. People are like, ‘Well yeah, I don’t like the Proud Boys,’ but what’s to stop this power from being used in other contexts?” Robson said in an interview.
“If we’re really going to take action against somebody, as Magna Carta said, we’ve got to bring them into court, we’ve got to show cause, and we’ve got to get a ruling from a jury or a judge.”
Robson is not surprised that Conservative MPs stood lockstep with the other parties on Singh’s motion, saying it’s in line with what he characterizes as the party’s recent shift to the left.
The federal government also wants to implement measures to regulate posts on social media with new legislation. Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told the House of Commons heritage committee on Jan. 29 that social media fed “escalation that led to what we saw on January 6.” He promised legislation to create a new government regulator that could levy fines on social media companies that allow hate speech to stay on their platforms.
Carpay believes the government’s approach is misguided.
“These people are fixated on content and focused on speech that they dislike, whereas the focus should be on the manner of expression. … In a free country, you don’t abuse your free expression by looting and vandalizing and destroying property and making unauthorized, inappropriate illegal entries into spaces,” he said.
“It’s unnecessary and very dangerous to have further restrictions on free speech that go beyond what is already there,” he added, noting that the Criminal Code already has provisions in place prohibiting the wilful promotion of hatred.
He also added that the biggest threat to free speech is self-censoring.
“Self-censorship kills free speech more than any law or government policy. And the best way to defend free speech is to exercise free speech and not allow yourself to be intimidated by name-calling that’s bound to happen,” Carpay said.