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HomeNewsCampusExpert explains hate speech and cautions students when posting opinions online

Expert explains hate speech and cautions students when posting opinions online

Durham College (DC) and Durham Regional Police Services (DRPS) continue to investigate a video allegedly posted by a DC student on X (formerly Twitter), in which she appears to support Hamas.

In the video, the female student says she is “very proud” of her people, allegedly referring to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel.

“I would love it if they would do it again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again,” she says on camera.

The Chronicle has not been able to confirm that the video is not altered or edited. However, in an email to students and staff on Nov. 18, Durham College said it “is aware of a disturbing video of an alleged DC student making antisemitic comments in support of terrorism.”

In an email to the Chronicle, Tara Koski, dean of Students at Durham College, said the video “had a troubling impact on many.”

However, she did not say whether the student has faced any discipline.

“DRPS and the college’s OCS (Office of Campus Safety) are investigating this matter, making it improper for the college to provide further comment at this time,” she said.

Meanwhile, also in an email, Sgt. Joanne Bortoluss from DRPS said the matter “is still under investigation. Once the investigation is complete, we will release a statement.”

The video has raised questions about hate speech. The Chronicle reached out to Dr. Barbara Perry, the director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, and a global expert in the field.

She discussed hate speech in general and, more specifically, cautions for students expressing their opinions in public. The Chronicle did not ask her to comment on the video posted to X.

In general, Perry said hate speech “is language that vilifies communities and equates them with violence or terror, language that suggests the community needs to be eradicated.”

She calls it “dangerous” speech.

“It has the potential impact on shaping attitudes towards a community and therefore behaviours directed towards that community,” she said.

According to Perry, there are factors that determine what constitutes hate speech.

“We actually do have limits in the Canadian context as set out by the constitution where there are limits that are necessary to uphold a democratic society,” she said. “And I think successive court decisions have also helped us to identify what constitutes hate speech.”

According to Perry, one of the best references is a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal case called Warman v. Kouba that looked at all definitions of hate and distilled them into “eleven hallmarks of hate.”

For example, one of the hallmarks is when “the targeted group is blamed for the current problems in society and the world.”

“It’s when the language encourages others to also develop hostility towards the community and perhaps engage in in behaviour that is is dangerous or damaging,” she explained, “whether that’s physical or whether that’s also hate speech directed towards the community.”

However, Perry said it is rare for people to be prosecuted for hate speech with only two to four cases per year going to court in Canada.

“When you think about how rampant hate speech is in the online space as well as the offline space, it’s shocking that there are so few cases,” she said.

Perry said there provisions in the Criminal Code in Section 318 for hate propaganda offences. They revolve around “incitement to hatred, incitement to genocide.”

However, Perry said there are challenges with enforcement.

“The other thing is that those are offences that, before charges can be laid, the crown needs to go to the attorney general for permission,” she said. “And so that’s an added layer barrier sometimes, because then it becomes a very political decision.”

There are other challenges as well, including the fact that hate speech often takes place online.

“It’s always a challenge to prosecute anything that occurs in the online space because of jurisdictional issues and technical issues,” she said. “Trying to determine what is the source of that statement: Where was it posted? If it’s outside Canada, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Perry said it can also be difficult to prove or identify a link between online speech or speech that could motivate others to engage in violence or hostility aimed at a specific community.

Perry cautions students about expressing their opinion online or offline.

“Be extremely cautious if you know that you’re commenting on a controversial topic,” she said. “If it’s something in print or online, it’s going to be easier to prosecute.”

She also advises never claim to support something that has been designated as a terrorist entity.

“That’s just asking for for trouble and potentially for for prosecution,” she said.