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Artillery Row

Hate bait

The proposed hate speech amendment Bill C-36 would crush grass roots feminism in Canada

As a British gender critical feminist living in Canada, whenever I meet up with fellow feminists, we always end up discussing the impressive gains of the gender critical movement in my home country and lamenting the polar opposite position in which we find ourselves.

Hate speech communicated by electronic means covers virtually all communication

It has never been easy being gender critical in Canada, but now, in our seventh year of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, the situation could be about to get even worse. Earlier this year, the government introduced Bill C-36, a proposed amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Code with regard to hate speech communicated by electronic means, which in this age of the internet covers virtually all communication. The bill died when the autumn election was called, but of course our Prime Minister, ever the crusader for the oppressed, has vowed to bring it back now that he has formed yet another minority government.

To someone unfamiliar with the gender wars, such a bill might seem harmless: an amendment merely aimed at protecting vulnerable groups from being targeted online. But for those of us who have been entrenched in this debate for some time, it is deeply concerning. I recently found myself, against my better judgement, embroiled in a Facebook debate about this piece of legislation, where my opponent perfectly summed up what most Canadians think: “If you don’t want to be charged with a hate crime, don’t say anything hateful. Simple.”

If only it were that simple. While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, these are subject to reasonable limits, and hate speech constitutes a reasonable limit. Of course, as British citizens have already discovered, the problem lies in how one defines hate speech. A term that was once used only to apply to the most extreme forms of speech now covers a much broader range of expression and ideas, a change to which our government seems completely oblivious.

One would expect this argument among gender ideologues on Twitter, not in a legal setting

This is sadly a recurrent theme with regards to the gender issue in Canada. Our MPs, usually with near complete support from the Canadian public, routinely vote to pass legislation without even the most basic understanding of its implications. Just yesterday, the House of Commons voted unanimously to pass Bill C-4, the so-called conversion therapy ban, without realising that they have voted in favour of paediatric gender clinics converting the bodies of mostly gay and lesbian teenagers in the name of gender identity. Back in 2017, MPs voted to pass Bill C-16, which added gender identity and expression to the list of protected characteristics, under the misguided belief that the bill would simply protect a vulnerable community and have no negative impact on women whatsoever. In reality, the result is male criminals identifying as women and being housed in women’s prisons — and ultimately, an end to single-sex spaces in general.

There is the same complete lack of understanding surrounding this proposed hate speech legislation. Most people in Canada are not aware that a small subset of the population believes a simple statement of biological reality should be treated as a hate crime. Nor do they know that women’s groups fighting to maintain their right to the safety of single-sex spaces are considered hate groups. Furthermore, most people still have faith in our legal system. It seems preposterous to the average person that the legal profession could be captured by a political ideology, but a quick look at British Columbia shows that our legal system is far from immune. In December 2020, BC courts issued new directives requiring participants to introduce themselves with their titles and preferred pronouns, and in 2019 a BC Human Rights Tribunal ruled that a Christian minister referring to a trans-identified male as a male in a pamphlet amounted to denying the existence of transgender people. This is an argument one would expect to find among gender ideologues on Twitter, but not in a legal setting.

Love it or loathe it, social media is now the town square

Love it or loathe it, social media is now the town square. It is where almost all political discussions take place, where people go to get informed, test ideas, debate and organise. Gender critical feminists already play the Twitter language game, in which a statement as simple as only women have a cervix is enough to earn a permanent ban. Therefore, we all carefully word our tweets in the hope of evading suspension, but until now the worst that could happen to us for accidentally stating biological facts was Twitter or Facebook banning us. Now Canadian feminists have a much bigger reason to fear speaking or writing what everyone knows to be true: the very real threat of hate speech allegations, a fine of up to $70,000, and a costly and stressful court battle.

If this bill is reintroduced and becomes law, it will have a disastrous effect on a movement only just getting off the ground. For Canadian trans activists, of course, that is the point. Earlier this year, a prominent Ottawa trans activist, Fae Johnstone, tweeted: “I actually do want a political environment in which TERFs are so vilified they don’t dare speak their views publicly, let alone act on them. Shut. Them. Down.” It is frightening to think that this bill would give those with such undemocratic, authoritarian beliefs the power to report feminists for hate crimes from behind a veil of anonymity.

I know how my adopted homeland is viewed by people across the pond: we’re seen as a lost cause, where the rights for which feminists fought so hard have been meekly surrendered to the trans lobby. But in the past year, inspired by the courage of British feminists, women had started to find their voice. Should this amendment pass, we face the loss of the most basic, foundational freedom of all the ability to discuss our own rights. We thought we’d consigned this timeworn, misogynistic tactic to the dustbin of history. We were wrong. In the 21st century, and in one of the most liberal and tolerant countries in the world, women must fight their battle all over again.

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