(For immediate release --- Thursday, July 25, 1996)

BC Gov't has no authority to regulate the 'Net

David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada, the nation's online civil liberties watchdog, says the the recent remarks by the BC Attorney General may initially seem to have a certain common sense appeal, but in the end sound rather hollow.

BC Attorney General, Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh, sent the news media into a frenzy last Friday when he announced that he had instructed his Task Force on Hate Crimes to investigate whether anything could be done about the spread of hate on the Internet. In a follow-up interview, he elaborated his three-pronged approach, saying the Task Force was to investigate:

whether complaints could be filed under the BC Human Rights Act, or the Canadian Human Rights Act,
whether complaints could be filed under the Criminal Code's so-called hate propaganda provisions (sections 318 and 319)
whether steps could be taken to regulate the Internet
Mr. Dosanjh was responding to complaints from people like Sol Littman, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who says the small town of Oliver, B.C. has become the ``hate capital of Canada'', because of controversial web pages. (see http://www.ftcnet.com)

In the few days since the announcement, Electronic Frontier Canada has done a little investigating of its own. Here is just a sampling of what it has uncovered.

(i) re: Human Rights Acts

The BC Human Rights Act deals primarily with issues relating to discrimination in the context of employment, tenancy, and public facilities. According to Andrew Boudreau, Complaints Analyst, the BC Council of Human Rights has no authority over the Internet. Furthermore, since it started keeping records in 1984, the Council has initiated no hearings whatsoever dealing with the display of hateful emblems (e.g., swastikas), or hateful publications.

The BC Press Council, according to Executive Secretary Gerald Porter, has on several occasions made it clear that it considers the BC Human Rights Act to be a seriously flawed piece of legislation that unreasonably infringes on the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and so on. Some people speculate that the BC Council on Human Rights has purposely chosen to avoid hearings on these issues because Press Council lawyers are poised to take them to the BC Supreme Court and prove the Act unconstitutional.

The Canadian Human Rights Act, while including a provision that enables the regulation of hateful messages delivered by automated telephone answering systems, also has no effective jurisdiction over the Internet, according to Harvey Goldberg, a Policy Director with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in Ottawa.

(ii) re: filing criminal charges with the RCMP

Sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code, place a very narrow and specific limitation on the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Only when hateful speech is so extreme that it actually `advocates genocide' or `incites hatred to such an extent that it will lead to a breach of the peace' is it criminal. In all other cases, Canadians enjoy the right to express their own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions, no matter who may disagree with them or be offended.

According to Sgt. Arnie Ziegler, who is with the RCMP office in the small town of Oliver, B.C., there have been no complaints filed, no instructions from the BC Attorney General's office, and there is no investigation into the promotion of hate on the Internet -- or anything else related to the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code. With this in mind, it hardly seems accurate when Sol Littman of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre calls this small town of 5,000 residents ``the hate capital of Canada''.

(iii) re: Internet regulation

Regulating communication is not within the jurisdiction of the provincial government, and the federal CRTC has acknowledged on various occasions that it has no authority to regulate the Internet.

(iv) re: BC Task Force on Hate Crimes

Speaking for the `Hate-Motivated Activities Initiative', Senior Policy Analyst Jacqueline Nelson said that the general public often misunderstands what is meant by the term `hate crime'. ``Calling people names is not illegal'', she said, ``we have had a problem with people filing frivolous complaints.''

Given that all of his proposed avenues of dealing with so-called `hate on the Internet' seem to lead very quickly to dead ends, it will be interesting to see how the BC Attorney General will proceed on this issue. ``To me'', says Jones, ``it seems nothing short of irresponsible to give people a false impression that the government can control how people choose to express themselves. I think it would be a serious mistake to encourage British Columbians to go to the trouble of filing formal complaints to control other people's expressions when those complaints are doomed to failure. It can only lead to a sense of frustration.''

``It's time to get beyond the simple observation that hate is offensive'', says Jones. ``I challenge the BC Attorney General's office to come up with a specific example of a Web page on a BC computer that it considers illegal.''

Richard Rosenberg, EFC vice-president and computer science professor at UBC, echoed this sentiment in a letter he wrote to Attorney General Dosanjh written earlier this week, ``If there is sufficient evidence that material on a Web site violates the existing laws then charges should be laid. On the other hand, I do not think we should cavalierly dismiss speech that we find unpleasant, even racist, sexist, or hateful, as falling outside the protection of free speech.''


EFC Contact Information:

Electronic Frontier Canada

Dr. David Jones, djones@efc.ca
phone: (905) 525-9140 x24689, fax: (905) 546-9995
Dr. Jeffrey Shallit, shallit@efc.ca
phone: (519) 888-4804, fax: (519) 885-1208
Dr. Richard Rosenberg, rosen@efc.ca
phone: (604) 822-4142, fax: (604) 822-5485

Electronic Frontier Canada's, online archives:
URL: http://www.efc.ca

Background Information:

Electronic Frontier fights censorship on the Internet
Globe & Mail, July 23, 1996 (Derek Winkler)

Related Documents:
Can they muzzle your modem?
article posted to efc-talk on January 5, 1995 by David Jones

Do not cavalierly dismiss freedom of speech
letter from EFC's Richard Rosenberg to BC Attorney General Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh

Not responsible for content, but willing to review specifically identified web pages
July 22nd letter from Fairview Tech's Bernard Klatt to BC Attorney General Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh

Sol Littmann suffers from Ostrich Syndrome
press release, 23jul96, by Ken McVay of the Nizkor Project

Not obligated to carry controversial subscribers
July 16th letter from Simon Wiesenthal Center's Sol Littman to Fairview Tech's Bernard Klatt

Censorship, Cyberspace, and the Center
OpEd article by Mark Weitzman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in the wake of the Deutsche Telekom blocking access to "hate" web pages in early 1996.

Related Newspaper articles:
The Great White North
Netizen (Hotwired), July 29, 1996. (Declan McCullagh)

Serving racists proves costly
Penticton Herald, July 26, 1996. (CP)

'Skinheads' using Oliver web server
Oliver Chronicle, July 24, 1996. (Kathleen Connolly)

Hate capital of Canada?
Oliver Chronicle, July 24, 1996. (Michael Newman)

Racist controversy engulfs B.C. Internet provider
Vancouver Sun, July 24, 1996. (Jeff Lee)

No room for hate pushers online
Ottawa Sun, July 24, 1996. (Rob Hall)

Oliver man stands by decision to give groups an outlet for material branded racist
Pentiction Herald, July 23, 1996. (Bob Munro)

B.C. Internet provider is the largest Canadian site for racist material
Vancouver Sun, July 19, 1996. (Jeff Lee)

Hate on Internet investigated
Vancouver Sun, July 19, 1996.

Tribunal a threat to free speech
Victoria Times Colonist, June 11, 1996. (Gerald Porter)

Other Contact Information:

The Honourable Mr. Ujjal Dosanjh
Attorney General for British Columbia
phone: (604) 387-1866 (main office)
phone: (604) 387-9548 (media liason, Brent Thompson)

Brian Greer
Legal Advisor
Ministry of the Attorney General
phone: (604) 356-5751

Jacqueline Nelson
Senior Policy Analyst
Hate-Motivated Activities Initiative
phone: (604) 387=5004

Andrew Boudreau
Complaints Analyst
BC Council of Human Rights
phone: (604) 387-3710

Gerald Porter
Executive Secretary
BC Press Council
phone: (604) 683-2571

Harvey Goldberg
Policy Director
Canadian Human Rights Commission
phone: (613) 943-9090, fax: (613) 996-9661
email: ae763@freenet.carleton.ca

Sgt. Arnie Ziegler
RCMP - Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Oliver, B.C. office
phone: (604) 498-3422

Bernard Klatt
Fairview Technology Center, Ltd.
in Oliver, B.C.
phone: (604) 498-4316
email: bwklatt@ftcnet.com
web: http://www.ftcnet.com/

Marc Lemire
`Freedom Site'
phone: (416) 465-6825
email: freedom@netcom.ca
web: http://www.ftcnet.com/~freedom/

Shane R.
phone: (604) ???-????
email: skinhds@ftcnet.com
web: http://www.ftcnet.com/~skinhds/

CRTC - Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
phone: (819) 997-0313

Ken McVay Director
Nizkor Project
email: kmcvay@nizkor.org
web: http://www.nizkor.org/

Sol Littman
Simon Wiesenthal Center
phone: (416) 864-9735

Bernie Farber
Canadian Jewish Congress
phone: (416) 635-2883

B'nai Brith, League for Human Rights
phone: (416) 633-6224