“Individuals who shouldn’t be caught up in online hate legislation will inevitably get caught up in it”: The testimony of Lindsay Shepherd to the Justice Committee
Honourable members, thank you for the invitation to appear today. Earlier this year, I received a seven day suspension from the social media website, Twitter, for violating their rules against hateful conduct.
According to the Twitter rules, you may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability or serious disease. What was my tweet that supposedly promoted violence, threatened or harassed someone?
My tweet referenced an individual that I cannot name here today due to a publication ban in this country. This individual can only be referred to as JY. JY is an individual that has taken 14 female aestheticians to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal because they declined to perform waxing services on his male genitalia.
There are also screenshots of Facebook messages between JY and others where it appears that he makes very predatory comments of wanting to help 10 to 12 year old girls with their tampons in bathroom stalls. In the tweet that got me suspended, I referred to JY as “a guy who creeps on young girls and vulnerable working women in the Vancouver area.” I posted some of the Facebook messages he has written about his plans to approach young girls in the female washrooms.
Why was it deemed “hateful conduct” for me to write this tweet? Because JY purports to be a male to female transgender person, so by alerting people to his troubling conduct, I got kicked off Twitter for seven days because what I wrote was seen as a transgression against his gender identity.
Prominent Canadian feminist Megan Murphy was permanently banned from Twitter for misgendering the same individual, JY, that I have just spoken about, and for tweeting “men aren’t women, though.”
These tweets also fell under Twitter’s hateful conduct policy. Murphy is now suing Twitter because as a journalist, her livelihood is largely dependent on her online presence and she is being denied an online presence and being denied the ability to participate in the public square as online spaces are today’s public square. I am concerned about the potential return of legislation such as section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. What that legislation does, is punish Canadians who, in exercising their right to peaceful, free expression, might offend a member of a protected, marginalized group.
If someone with a marginalized identity experiences commentary they find offensive, they can claim the offence is an attack on their identity rather than being legitimate expression. Human rights tribunals become the tools by which those who speak their mind peacefully and nonviolently, are silenced.
Many other witnesses before this committee have discussed the need for a definition of hate and many call for a need to draw the line between free speech and hate speech. As a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2017 and 2018, I woke up to how my peers and academic superiors understand hate.
When the word got out that I had played an excerpt from TVOntario’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, in the classroom that I was a teaching assistant for, an excerpt that featured psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson discussing Bill C-16, compelled speech and gender pronouns, a PhD student at my university said, at a rally, that I had played hate speech in the classroom and had violated the spirit of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Likewise, a professor at George Brown College, named Dr. Griffen Epstein, asserted in a letter to the Toronto Star, that I had played, “hate speech in the classroom.” These are just two examples. Recently, Facebook has taken to banning white nationalists from their platform.
If you poke around online, tons of people call me a white nationalist and a white supremacist because I have offered criticisms of the practice of indigenous land acknowledgements and have cited the statistically backed up fact that white Canadians are becoming a minority in Canada.
An instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Christopher Stewart-Taylor, used class time in his anthropology class to tell his students that I have “neo-Nazi, white supremacist ideologies,” which he followed by saying, “I shouldn’t have said that; forget I said anything.” I don’t have a Facebook account, but if I did, would they ban me? How many people does it take to smear you as a white nationalist or white supremacist before you get banned from certain online spaces?
This committee has noted that underlying their study on online hate is a finding by Statistics Canada that reported a 47% increase in police report hate crimes between 2016-2017. However, this increase is principally from non-violent crimes.
As the Statistics Canada website reads: Police-reported hate crime in Canada rose sharply in 2017, up 47% over the previous year, and largely the result of an increase in hate-related property crimes, such as graffiti and vandalism. Now perhaps you caught this story in the news recently. A couple of months ago at Laurentian University in Sudbury a student found some candy arranged in the shape of swastika on a cafeteria table.
This swastika shaped candy arrangement is being investigated as an incident of hatred and intimidation by the university.
However, I do not think that one single isolated incident of candy arranged in a swastika is enough evidence to indicate that anyone trying to incite hatred, target, or intimidate. This is an example of how the bar for what constitutes hate is too low.
I have had so many encounters with the hypersensitivity around what constitutes hate that I know bringing back section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act would be a mistake. It would cast too wide of a net and extremists who are already intent on causing real world violence will go to the deeper and darker web to communicate whilst individuals who shouldn’t be caught up in online hate legislation will inevitably get caught up in it.