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What is hate speech?

Canada has a number of offences that target hate propaganda or hate speech.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our right to free speech under s. 2, however, the Criminal Code of Canada prohibits “hate propaganda.”

Having criminal offences related to hate propaganda does not violate our Charter right to free speech, because there is a compelling objective at stake. These offences are considered reasonable limits on our right to free speech, because they seek to prevent public promotion of hatred and discrimination.

Additionally, provincial human rights legislation prohibits discrimination based on certain characteristics such as race, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, and more. Therefore, hate speech and hate propaganda may also be punishable under provincial and territorial human rights codes.

Criminal Code offences

The Criminal Code lists three offences associated with “hate propaganda,” they are:

  • Advocating genocide;
  • Public Incitement of hatred; and
  • Willful promotion of hatred. 

Advocating genocide: Under the code, anyone who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an offence that can be punished by up to five years in jail. Here, “genocide” is defined as acts that intend to destroy in whole or in part an identifiable group. An “identifiable group” is defined as any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, national or ethnic origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.

Public incitement of hatred: Under the code, everyone, who by communicating statements in a public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where it’s likely to lead to a breach of the peace, is guilty of an offence and may be punished by up to two years in jail.

Wilful promotion of hatred: Under the code, everyone who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group, is guilty of an offence and may be punished by up to two years in jail.

One thing to note in relation to above offences is that it will not matter whether the statements were made in print or online. As long as they are communicated in a public place, they may constitute an offence.

Moreover, a public place will likely be interpreted as anywhere with a public character. A private e-mail conversation among two individuals may not have a public character, but sending mass e-mails or making statements in chatrooms on websites are treated as statements made in “public places.”

If you have come across hate propaganda or are personally a victim of hate speech, save the statements if you can and contact your local police.

Read more:

Criminal Code of Canada Hate Propaganda

What is a hate crime?