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  • Rebecca Bromwich

On Canada’s Definition of Hate Propaganda: Harper and Hillary- Stronger Together

I am not a member of the Stephen Harper fan club. This is not least because of his government’s “tough on crime” justice agenda, made manifest most clearly in Bill C-10 (the omnibus crime Bill that, in 2012, changed a raft of criminal provisions, from youth sentencing to mandatory minimums for drug offences). However, after the election of President-elect Trump this November, I feel compelled to say something good about our former Federal regime. In 2014, in a little known side note to their now-infamous crime agenda, the Harper government did a least one thing right: they amended, as part of C-13, the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code to include sex, essentially redefining misogyny as a hate crime.

On October 20, 2014, just shy of one year before they left office, the federal Conservative government passed Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. Commonly referred to at the time of its passing as the "Cyberbullying Bill," the legislation included problematic amendments to surveillance powers of government (through “lawful access”). However, alongside those other, more well-publicized changes, Section 12 of Bill C-13 amended the hate propaganda section of Canada’s Criminal Code as follows:

"Subsection 318(4) of the Act is replaced by the following:

(4) In this section, “identifiable group” means any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability".

There was significant debate and criticism about other portions of the Bill. However, this section of it went virtually unnoticed, although it did attract support from LEAF (the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund). It grants women and girls protection under the Criminal Code hate propaganda law.

We all know that Secretary Clinton’s loss in the American election is felt painfully by feminists. It is hard to put into words just how awfully the election of a man who has been accused by scores of women of sexual assault and harassment is an affront to women. I am reeling, as a feminist woman, as a mother of daughters, and as a person, (and quite frankly, so are many others). Also painful is the fact that so many women supported Trump. Potential reasons include neo-racism,where a woman's self-understanding permits the afflicted to seek refuge from the hateful vitriol of Trump’s “movement” by aligning with it and against marginalized minorities. Misogyny against Hillary Clinton slid neatly into the warp and woof of a campaign lauded and supported by Klu Klux Klan leadership.

Indeed, seamlessly woven into the tapestry of Trump's vitriol during his campaign was misogyny interwoven with religiously and racially-motivated hate. Amidst all of the shocking revelations of President-Elect Trump's victory is one particularly useful insight to remember in contemplating the criminal law concerning hate propaganda: forms of hate are connected. Discrimination, division and the building of walls are thematically linked whether the discrimination is made along lines defined by sex, gender, sexuality, race, religion, or analogous criteria.

Trump’s election, of course, affects us in Canada as well. In Hamilton, Ontario, Justice Bernd Zabel, who has since apologized, entered the Courtroom wearing a Trump campaign hat. While he has apologized in a very Canadian manner, Justice Zabel’s conduct has chilling implications. Similarly, this week, in my home city of Ottawa, we have experienced two high profile hate crimes: first the vandalism of a suburban Kanata elementary school with racial slurs, then the defacing of a Rabbi’s home with a swastika. The emboldening of “alt-right” hate groups by Trump’s ascendancy has evidently not stopped at the Canadian border. These sentiments were echoed in remarks by Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch, who has characterized Trump’s campaign as articulating an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.

In response to the hate incidents in Ottawa, Ontario’s legislators unanimously repudiated hate and discrimination. As did the Harper government by expanding s. 318 of the Criminal Code. And all of Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament stood on November 15, 2016 to repudiate and denounce hateful acts.

Even the Harper government understood that inclusion is a Canadian value. Hate and discrimination are connected: the interests of marginalized and dominant groups are aligned. As President Barack Obama said during a 2015 visit to Kenya, referring to all of humanity, “we are one tribe.

In the coming winter, as President-elect Trump approaches inauguration, we will be up against powerful and dangerous ideas and policies. In Canada, there are certain things about which even the Harper government and left-leaning advocates agreed. Let us hope, whatever ensues in the coming four years, Canadians remember that. Divided we fall; we are stronger together.


The views and opinions expressed in the blogs are the views of their authors, and do not represent the views of the Faculty of Law, or the University of Manitoba. Academic Members of the University of Manitoba are entitled to academic freedom in the context of a respectful working and learning environment.

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