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Attorney General Niki Sharma maintains that B.C. Human Rights Code applies to online publications

Publications Niki Sharma
Attorney General Niki Sharma wants the human rights commissioner to know that online publications face the same obligations as print publications in not promoting hate against identifiable groups.

Does the B.C. Human Rights Code prohibit discrimination against people or groups in online publications?

In a major 2023 report on called From hate to hope, the British Columbia Office of the Human Rights Commission suggested that this wasn’t clear. As a result, Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender recommended that the attorney general “be more responsive to hate” by amending section 7 of the B.C. Human Rights Code.

Govender stated that an amendment would clarify that this section applies “regardless of whether publications are online or offline”.

However, in an April 5 letter to Govender, Attorney General Niki Sharma declared that section 7 of the Code already accomplishes this.

“My ministry has concluded required policy analysis, and our interpretation concludes that BC’s Human Rights Code applies to both online and offline publications,” Sharma wrote.

Furthermore, Sharma noted that a “version of the prohibition against discriminatory publication has been in provincial human rights legislation since 1961”.

Code does not define publications

Section 7 of the Code states that “a person must not publish, issue or display, or cause to be published, issued or displayed, any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a group or class of persons, or is likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt”.

This on the basis of several considerations. They include Indigenous identity, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age of that person or that group or class of persons.

The B.C. Human Rights Code does not define the word “publication”.

“As an independent body, the [B.C. Human Rights] Tribunal is in the best position to determine its jurisdiction and the scope of section 7 in a particular complaint before it,” Sharma stated in her letter to Govender. “However, if there are examples where, in your view, section 7 has been too narrowly interpreted, we would be open to revisiting this issue and considering other options.”

In her report, Govender also recommended that the attorney general ensure adequate funding to the Tribunal to effectively process complaints. In addition, Govender called upon the attorney general to amend section 7 and other substantive sections of the Code “to include social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination for the purposes of hateful publications”.

Govender’s five-year term as human rights commissioner will expire on September 3. The legislature has statutory authority to reappoint her to a second five-year term under the B.C. Human Rights Code.

Related articles

“B.C. human rights commissioner gives mainstream media a free pass in inquiry into hate during the pandemic”

“Elimin8Hate zeroed in on irresponsible reporting as driver of anti-Asian sentiment in testimony to human rights commissioner”

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.