Harsh criticism of immigration policy now a criminal offense?
An anti-immigration leaflet being distributed in the Toronto suburb of Brampton has prompted calls for hate crime charges to be leveled against its creators, raising the prospect that harsh condemnation of immigration policy could now be considered a criminal offense in Canada.
The flyer, which was produced and handed out by Immigration Watch Canada, shows an image of Caucasians above a separate photograph of a group of Sikhs with captions that read “from this…to this…”
The flyer points out that in 2001, Brampton’s Canadian population stood at 59.6%, a figure that dropped to 32.9% according to the 2011 census. “Is this what you really want?” asks the flyer. Brampton’s 521,000 population consists of 200,000 people from a South Asian background.
Ontario’s premier Kathleen Wynne responded by saying the leaflet illustrated the “hateful politics of division in Ontario,” adding, “They can’t be tolerated. That kind of divisive action really is not consistent with who we are as Canadians,”
Immigration Watch spokesman Dan Murray said it was laughable that anyone was even talking about hate crime charges.
University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon was unsure whether the leaflet constituted a hate crime, noting that, “It doesn’t attribute anything to members of any group.”
While the leaflet may be offensive to many, the idea of it being characterized as a “hate crime” represents a huge chilling effect on freedom of speech.
Indeed, some are calling for hate crime charges to be filed simply as a means of discouraging others from speaking out against immigration.
“Otherwise… in the future other people are going to start doing that. And they’re going to be hard to control,” said Ranjit Dulay, chairman of the Ontario Sikhs & Gurdwara Council.
Meanwhile, in the United States, critics fear that legislation aimed at combating hate crime could also be applied to censor legitimate criticism of immigration policy.
The recently introduced Hate Crime Reporting Act of 2014, which targets offensive speech made on radio, television or the Internet, was labeled a “frankly chilling proposition” by a Boston Herald editorial.