A Comparative Analysis of Constitutional Approaches to Hate Speech

hastings logoMy latest law review article has just been published: “Striking the Right Balance: Hate Speech Laws in Japan, the United States, and Canada,” 45 Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly 455 (2018). The abstract is as follows:

Using the opportunity of Japan’s recent enactment of hate speech legislation, this article engages in a comparative examination of three different approaches to finding the right balance between legal limits on hate speech and the right to freedom of expression. The Japanese and American systems have struggled to find both a sufficiently important purpose to justify hate speech laws, or an appropriate limiting principle to narrow their scope. Neither system views hate speech laws as implicating equal protection rights, and so the balance is heavily in favor of freedom of speech. The American doctrine views hate speech laws as justifiable only if they can come within other ill-fitting categories of lesser-protected speech, which are mostly concerned with imminent violence rather than equality or discrimination. Japan has enacted hate speech laws too weak to impact freedom of expression at all.

The Canadian approach does not find the perfect equilibrium, but it suggests a better way to strike the balance. Drawing on this comparative review, the article argues that hate speech laws should be enacted with the object and purpose of fulfilling the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and equal treatment. Such laws would thus be narrowly drawn to prevent the fostering of hatred that would in turn lead to increased discrimination against identifiable groups, which are themselves defined in terms of the prohibited grounds of discrimination in the constitutional right to equality. The laws would address, and take seriously, the principal harms caused by hate speech — to the members of such groups, to the principles of equality, and to freedom of expression itself. But this objective also constitutes a compelling state interest, and a constitutionally informed basis for tailoring the hate speech laws narrowly, thus reducing to a justifiable minimum their impact on the right to freedom of expression. The right balance, then, is to be found in understanding and reconciling this tension between two constitutional rights. 

Why Canada Should Not Support an Israeli Attack on Iran

(Published in the Huffington Post (Canada), March 2, 2012)

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The Canadian newspapers reported this week that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be seeking the support of the Canadian government for a possible military attack on Iran. There is increasing speculation that Israel will launch military strikes before summer against the nuclear enrichment facilities within Iran, in an attempt to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Prime Minister Harper has given Netanyahu hope that Canada might back such a move. But the strikes would violate international law, and Canadian support for them would utterly betray the values that Canada has long championed.

First, let us examine the legality. The international law regime under the United Nations system prohibits all use of armed force, except in self-defence in the event of an armed attack, or for collective security purposes as authorized by the U.N. Security Council. The Israelis are trying to characterize the proposed military strikes as acts of self-defence to prevent an existential threat from materializing. Such strikes would not, however, satisfy the test for self-defence.

While there is some agreement in international law that states can use force to defend against an imminent armed attack, rather than being required to wait for the first blow to actually fall, the test for imminence is strict. Such “anticipatory self-defense” is permitted only when the “necessity of self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means and no moment for deliberation” (a formulation that arose from an incident between Britain and the U.S. in 19th-century Canada, as it happens). In contrast, there has been widespread rejection of the concept of “preventative self-defense” — that is, the use of force to prevent the development of a more distant and speculative future threat. … Read more…