Canada considers house arrest for people at risk of committing hate crimes

An online harms bill introduced by the Liberals last week proposed a string of laws to protect children and prosecute hate crimes
An online harms bill introduced by the Liberals last week proposed a string of laws to protect children and prosecute hate crimes
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Justin Trudeau’s government has proposed a law giving judges the power to put someone under house arrest if they fear they could commit a hate crime.

Critics have warned the “draconian” bill is an overreach of power and could stifle free speech and difficult discussions.

But Canada’s justice minister defended the measure, claiming it would be an “important” tool to help protect potential victims.

An online harms bill introduced by the Liberals last week proposed a string of laws to protect children and prosecute hate crimes.

One of the suggested measures would give judges the ability to put people under house arrest who they worry could commit a hate crime in the future. The person could also be made to wear an electronic tag if the attorney-general requested it.

Arif Virani, the justice minister, said the measures could prove “very important” in restraining the behaviour of someone who might be targeting minority groups.

”[If] there’s a genuine fear of an escalation, then an individual or group could come forward and seek a peace bond against them and to prevent them from doing certain things,” Mr Virani said.

Justice minister Arif Virani
Justice minister Arif Virani says the proposed legislation could help restrain the behaviour of someone who might be targeting minority groups - The Canadian Press/Alamy

Preventative measures could include banning the person from being near a synagogue or a mosque or restrictions on internet use.

He said: “That would help to de-radicalise people who are learning things online and acting out in the real world violently – sometimes fatally.”

Mr Virani said content that is “awful but lawful” would remain online and a high threshold would have to be met to use the powers.

“What’s really critical is that it gives the judge a wonderful range of sentences. This is not a mandatory minimum of a life sentence, this is just a larger range, including what would be the maximum sentence,” he said.

Measures proposed in Bill C-63, which was unveiled on 26 February, include a new hate crime offence which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for the most serious cases.

The bill would also make online platforms swiftly take down child sexual abuse material, as well as sexual content posted without consent.

Following the publication of the proposed bill, Pierre Poilievre, the opposition leader, said his party did not believe in “censoring opinions”.

“We do not believe that the government should be banning opinions that contradict the prime minister’s radical ideology,” he said.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau
The opposition Conservative Party of Canada says the government should not be banning opinions that contradict prime minister Justin Trudeau's 'radical ideology' - Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, criticised the “draconian penalties” proposed by the Bill.

He warned it could lead to “violations of expressive freedom, privacy, protest rights, and liberty” and a new offence introduced “risks misuse or overuse by police, and unfairness to accused persons in court”.

One aspect of the bill would allow people to file complaints to the Canadian Human Rights Commission over what is perceived as hate speech online. Those found guilty could have to pay victims up to C$20,000 in compensation.

Critics have warned the measure risked silencing those such as comedians and commentators who could be slapped with huge fines.

“We’re very concerned that comedians, and even people just trying to have difficult conversations about things like gender or immigration or religion, are going to be faced with complaints,” Josh Dehaas, a lawyer with the Canadian Constitution Foundation, told the Globe and Mail.

“Even if the complaints don’t go anywhere, they’ll be able to be threatened – ‘if you don’t take that tweet down, or if you don’t stop with that comedy routine, I’m going to take you to the Human Rights Tribunal’ – and that threat alone is going to cause a lot of damage.”

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