WSO testifies on online hate at Justice Committee

WSO President Mukhbir Singh.
WSO President Mukhbir Singh.

WORLD Sikh Organization of Canada President, Mukhbir Singh, testifying on Thursday before the House of Commons Justice Committee on the issue of online hate, called on the government to play its role in countering its proliferation.

Following a sharp rise in police-reported hate crimes between 2016 and 2017, many organizations, including the World Sikh Organization of Canada, had called on the Government of Canada to create a strategy to counter online hatred.

In his testimony, Mukhbir Singh acknowledged that “unfortunately, instances of hatred and violence are not new for the Sikh community… minority status combined with an outward identity which is intended to stand out has often made Sikhs a target by those motivated by hate and intolerance.”

Mukhbir Singh made reference to the arrest last week of an individual for ‘public incitement of hatred’ following a Facebook comment in response to a news story about the record-breaking number of people who attended the Surrey Vaisakhi parade. The individual who was charged had commented that the failure to place a pressure cooker bomb at the parade was a “lost opportunity”.

In its submissions, the WSO recognized that all individuals have the right to exercise their freedom of expression, however in instances where expression may be used to threaten the most marginalized members of our society, namely women, youth and minorities, action must be taken.

The WSO proposed:

  • The government consult with community stakeholders as well as social media providers respond to the threat of online.
  • The establishment of uniform, national guidelines and standards for the collection and handling of hate crime and hate incident data in Canada.
  • Penalties for companies which fail to properly apply laws regarding the removal of hateful content.
  • Training and support to law enforcement, provincial attorney generals and prosecutors to use the tools available to them under the Criminal Code such as Section 320.1. This section has not been used very often to date.
  • Promotion of dialogue and engagement between communities. Often hate is borne out of ignorance or misunderstanding and this may be prevented through community engagement and outreach.
  • Government engagement with community organizations to hear their concerns about what they are seeing on the ground.

Mukhbir Singh said, “The proliferation of online hate and the link to actual attacks is worrisome and Canada must act to counter this threat with a meaningful and effective strategy.  We hope that through cooperation with social media providers and government agencies as well as increased dialogue and engagement, the danger online hate poses to vulnerable groups can be mitigated.”