LEAF submits brief to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

LEAF submitted a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights’ study of online hate on May 10, 2019. 

Online hate affects everyone, but particularly those subject to hate messaging and abuse that is misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, racist, Islamophobic, antisemitic, or otherwise discriminatory.  LEAF’s submission draws the Committee’s attention to the particular impact that online hate has on women’s equality.

Hate proliferates online with profound, measurable effects on women and other vulnerable groups. Amnesty International’s “Troll Patrol” project found that an abusive tweet is sent to a woman on Twitter every 30 seconds, including threats of murder, rape, and the use of misogynistic slurs. The propagation of hatred of women serves as a tool of patriarchal society, perpetuating systemic discrimination against women, with all the consequent outcomes, including the feminization of poverty, lack of opportunities, and exposure to violence. Social media platforms are increasingly the locus of civic discussion, replacing the public square, and reshaping society.  Organizations have documented harms experienced by women from online hate, particularly noting the silencing of women journalists.

It is clear that gender-based hate speech causes significant harm to women. As outlined in LEAF’s submission, it undermines women’s emotional and psychological wellbeing and it increases women’s fear, which impacts their free participation in society. It causes psychological harm and trauma. It denies women freedom of expression and civic participation. It promotes violence against women, which risks increasing incidents of sexual and physical violence against women. Further, it perpetuates stereotypes against women, which act as barriers to equality for women in all areas of their life. In light of these harms, the proliferation of online hate requires robust government response.

Canada, as do most democracies, recognizes that freedom of expression is enhanced by limiting hate speech.  Hate speech has a stultifying effect on public discourse, and results in the exclusion of groups targeted by hate. Nonetheless, in 2013, the federal government removed s. 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2013, which prohibited hate speech communicated by telecommunication. 

LEAF’s submission recommends that s. 13 of the CHRA should be restored.  In addition, LEAF recommends that a regulatory mechanism be developed to address the wide scope of harm and to hold social media platforms to account.  Regulatory measures are considered or in place in several foreign jurisdictions, and are supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. LEAF is of the view that it is untenable to allow profit-making, algorithmically driven entities to continue unregulated when we see the direct effect of the proliferation of online misogyny in the views espoused and published online by perpetrators of mass killings, such as the Toronto van attack in 2018 or the 2014 murders at a California sorority house.

It is imperative that the government act to regulate this problem, and provide targets of online hate speech with access to justice and legal remedies through the Canadian Human Rights Act.

LEAF is grateful to the contributions of Jo-Ann Kolmes and Jennifer Tomaszewski, who drafted LEAF’s submission together with LEAF Staff Counsel Karen Segal.

The submission can be accessed here.

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) works to advance the substantive equality rights of women and girls through litigation, law reform, and public education. Since 1985, we have intervened in landmark cases that have advanced equality in Canada—helping to prevent violence, eliminate discrimination in the workplace, provide better maternity benefits, ensure a right to pay equity, and allow access to reproductive freedoms. For more information, please visit www.leaf.ca.  

For media inquiries, please contact:

Karen Segal, Staff Counsel                                                                             Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund                                             416.595.7170 x2003                                                                                       k.segal@leaf.ca