Online harms: Civil liberty, law critics say stiffer hate crime sentences 'troubling'

OTTAWA — The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is voicing concerns over what it calls "draconian penalties" proposed in the Criminal Code as part of the Liberal government's sweeping plan to target online hate.

Justice Minister Arif Virani tabled the long-awaited bill this week, which includes introducing stiffer penalties for hate offences.

The bill proposes increasing the maximum punishment for advocating genocide to life imprisonment, and allowing for up to five years in prison for other hate propaganda offences.

The national civil liberties group says higher sentences risk chilling free speech and also undermine "the principles of proportionality and fairness" within the legal system.

University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon, who specializes in freedom of expression, says the new sentences are "troubling" because there's no reason to believe they will work as an effective deterrent.

He says it's unclear how the government's plan to create a new stand-alone hate crime offence would work since hate can already be used as an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Jewish advocacy groups have welcomed the proposed changes, citing a sharp rise in antisemitism since the Israel-Hamas war began last fall.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb.28. 2024.

The Canadian Press