Canada repeals its blasphemy law

Thanks to several humanist groups, the Canadian blasphemy law, which hasn’t been much used, has just been repealed. As reported by Humanists UK , the bill passed the Canadian Parliament two days ago and now “awaits royal assent”. (Those ties to the UK still irk me. Why the hell does the Queen have to certify this?)

Kudos to those groups for that change.

Something else in the article jumped out at me:

And note that Canada retains numerous hate speech laws, with many of the provinces having one or another version of laws that criminalize publication of material promulgating hatred involving the usual factors. Here, for example, is the one from Manitoba:

Manitoba’s The Human Rights Code allows an adjudicator to order inter alia that a respondent pay damages for injury to dignity, feelings or self-respect in an amount that the adjudicator considers “just and appropriate”, and to pay a penalty or exemplary damages (up to $2000 in the case of an individual respondent; up to $10,000 in any other case) if malice or recklessness is involved. Manitoba’s Code is unique in having an “analogous grounds” provision. Complaints can be based not only on the listed grounds (such as sex, age, national origin, etc.), but also on grounds analogous to the listed ones. For example, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission currently accepts complaints based on gender identity.

Now I don’t have any significant experience living in and comparing life and opinions in various Canadian provinces—but I’m really surprised that this is a Manitoban law. (If it was a law in Quebec, that I would have more easily understand.) Does anybody know anything about how this law arose in Manitoba? Is there a religious history there which differs significantly from other provinces?

(My question seems like a good research project for @Patrick and the FFRF. :wink: The Discourse software appears to be telling me that @Eddie may be preparing a reply to this thread. Hopefully so. Perhaps Edward can educate us on this “religion & society” topic and has more familiarity with Canadian history and culture.)

The wording strikes me as downright frightening in its ambiguity: “damages for injury to dignity, feelings or self-respect”. Yikes. Just how easily can one’s feelings be “damaged”? Do Manitoban have a legal right to be protected from having their feelings hurt? And even though that speech-law is focused on religion per se, does it mean that any strongly held belief sets the stage for “damage to dignity”, such as someone saying, “The Bible is false!” or “Mohammed was a pedophile for marrying such a young girl!” or “Atheists are undeserving of legal protections!”

Of course, as a citizen of the USA, I’m not well equipped to evaluate Canadian laws and customs. But this one baffles me.

Right on! as they used to say in the sixties. You have sensed the looming totalitarianism that lies just underneath the surface of modern political correctness. I’m struck, Allen, at how often I find myself in agreement with your posts on a wide range of issues, and how often you seem to agree with mine. If it weren’t for one small area of disagreement (which is best kept between us, rather than aired here), I think we would get along very well. If you are inclined, drop me a note sometime, maybe in the New Year, and perhaps we can work out a modus vivendi after all.


And I wonder if we have any Canadians on Peaceful Science who can explain why this law arose in Manitoba and not in Quebec? (I hope that that doesn’t sound insulting to people in Quebec. I simply mean that Quebec has an understandable history where French-speaking Roman Catholic Québécois felt beleaguered as a kind of “island” in an English-speaking Canada and as a province with a more French cultural and legal tradition rather than a British one.)

If I had to guess, it would be that the extreme climate and general isolation during the long cold winters meant that Manitobans developed a cultural tradition where community harmony must be preserved at all cost. Thus, any belief that is cherished by even one person must be carefully respected and never questioned—because offending even one person could lead to anger and and a blood-vengeance during a long winter of seclusion in a tiny village where everyone must depend upon everyone else in order to survive.

Again, I’ve spent very little time in Manitoba and know very little about the culture, so this is just my wild guess. No disrespect intended.

Manitoba isn’t the only province like this. If you look up “hate speech” and “Canada” you will find other examples. I am not recommending Wikipedia as a rigorously-researched source of information, but the article there indicates at least two other provinces (New Brunswick and Ontario) which have punishments for offending the “dignity” or “esteem” of people (according to some appointed official’s judgment), and stuff in the various provincial human rights codes also allows for prosecution. Political correctness is rife, as is the culture of over-sensitivity. But as you hint at in your example of the Bible, the worry about over-sensitivity usually vanishes when the people being criticized are Christians. No theater owners in Canada have been charged with hate speech or with lowering Christians’ dignity by showing The Life of Brian, for example. But an Alberta paper was charged with hate speech against Islam for reprinting some Danish cartoons. The “wounded feelings” crybaby act is available to everyone but Christians.

But aside from this problem of the double standard, the really scary thing is that a panel of appointed “judges” (usually not people trained in law, but simply appointed lay people) on these tribunals has the power to impose its value judgments, and this has a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

Political correctness runs amok. But let’s not forget that political correctness began not in Canada, but in the USA. Who started the “inclusive language” dogma? Who started “affirmative action” policies? Other countries have imitated the USA, and in some cases have outstripped it in political correctness, but almost all of the ideas originated with the American left, whence they spread to become global. The main difference I see is that in America there is a stronger right to balance the left, so that the left does not have the power to impose political correctness all through the society, whereas in countries like Canada, Australia, Britain, etc. the leftist ethos is predominant and thus freedom of speech concerns tends to be trumped by leftist legislation and leftist-generated constitutional instruments. The other countries – or their intelligentsia who make the laws – seem to value imagined security and stability over the risks of freedom and disagreement. One can only hope that America will not fall into such a love a security that it follows that lead.

1 Like

No ties to UK… Although, admittedly the change was a Trudeau Sr. deed, so relatively recent.

1 Like

Incredible. Yikes indeed.

Speaking of huge amounts of power resting on just a few people—or even just one person in the following case—this bombshell greeted us in the morning news:

Whatever a person’s position on the Affordable Care Act, the fact that one federal judge in Texas (rather than the U.S. Supreme Court) can strike down an act of Congress signed by the President is rather startling.

(Of course, not a lot will happen until the case gets appealed up the chain to the Federal Court of Appeals and then SCOTUS, it is still quite interesting.)

1 Like

From a Toronto viewpoint, I’ve never heard of a usage of these obscure sections of provincial rights. The Wiki -mentioned cases are very rare AFAIK. As with hate speech, egregious use of these human rights clauses would no doubt be challenged in the courts; like birthday cakes and freedom of religion in US.

What gets press here is pro-Christian (ie keeping the cross in provincial legislature), anti-Muslim bias of current government of Quebec. Possibly reminiscent of what France calls secularism.

Also getting attention are the views of Jordan Petersen, of course, in particular his curious stance on pronouns.

1 Like