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Repeal Section 13 and Revitalize Press Councils says Richard Moon

November 24, 2008

While Richard Moon’s #1 recommendation is “that section 13 of the CHRA be repealed,” he also says regional press councils should order newpapers to print material favourable to “unfairly represented” groups, in a report released this morning.

Moon, a University of Windsor law professor, was hired in June by the Canadian Human Rights Commission to write a report on how best to address internet hate speech, with particular attention to Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Section 13, which deals with hate speech, has come under public scrutiny in the past year for its vagueness and its apparent abuses by CHRC staff.

Moon’s report is unlikely to quell the controversy.

While recommending the removal of Section 13 and the prosecution of hate speech in criminal courts, Moon offers an alternative recommendation in case the first one is not heeded. Under this second recommendation, Moon says Section 13(1) should be emended to rule out all but the most extreme cases of hate speech, and that authorial intent and the truth defense should be included in the consideration. This would mean that actions intended to challenge the CHRA, such as the reprinting of Rev. Steve Boisson’s letter by bloggers challenging the CHRC, would not be subject to hate speech accusations. Moon’s second recommendation also stipulates that the CHRC should have the exclusive right to investigate Section 13 cases, removing the possibilities of systemic abuse at the hands of a few individuals, as well as the burden on individual complainants.

What might create even more controversy is Moon’s third recommendation, which seeks to “revitalize the provincial/regional press councils” and “ensure that identifiable groups in the community are able to pursue complaints that they have been unfairly represented in the mainstream print media.”

The idea that regional press councils could dictate editorial content of mainstream media is unlikely to win over avid free speechers such as Ezra Levant, who says the idea reflects belief in a “weird command and control universe, where everyone reads the MSM [mainstream media].” Other journalists, such as Ryerson journalism professor John Miller, welcome the recommendation but express doubt that the press will actually invigorate press councils.

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