by Robert Matas and Ross Howard
BURNABY, B.C. -- Disturbed by the slaying of an elderly Sikh, allegedly by five white supremacists, and under increasing pressure to prosecute hate-mongers, B.C.'s Attorney-General called yesterday for a tougher Criminal Code, saying the current code is obsolete and unworkable.
But Federal Multiculturalism Hedy Fry and the dean of Victoria's law school, David Cohen, tossed responsibility back to Attorney-General Dosanjh.
"We have laws that are already strong enough", Dr. Fry, the MP for Vancouver-Centre, said while at a conference sponsored by the RCMP on hate crimes.
Charges could be brought under federal communications law that prohibits the dissemination of hate, she noted.
"The question is, why are they not doing it?" she said. "I'm sure Mr. Dosanjh has a very good reason, because I know he is very committed to this issue."
David Cohen, the law school dean, said he believes B.C. could be successful in court, under certain conditions.
Federal legislation should be revised to take into account the Internet, he agreed. However, the Criminal code is sufficient to prosecute someone whose web site contains only hate propaganda and if evidence is available that the operator is looking for more links for the site, he said.
"My sense is there's adequate grounds to prosecute", said Mr. Cohen.
The spotlight is on how the province handles hate crimes because of publicity about a web site that offers hate propaganda operating out of Oliver, B.C., combined with the Vancouver slaying, in which police have charged five alleged members of a white-supremacist group. Although there is no evidence the five accused were influenced by the web site, or even if they had access to computers, the site has been repeatedly cited by angry critics of the government as giving the impression that B.C. is a haven for hatemongers.
Despite several incidents of racism and hate-related crimes in recent years in the province, no one in B.C. has been charged under Canada's hate laws.
Mr. Dosanjh said he is ready to prosecute, if he has a chance of winning a conviction. He ants to see the law changed to make possession of hate propaganda a crime, with provisions similar to Canada's child-pornography law.
"I don't want Hedy Fry to tell me to enforce the law", he said during the opening address to the hate-crimes conference. "That's my duty. I know how to enforce the law."
Nevertheless, he added, he agrees with government lawyers and police officers who advised him that the law has to be changed. "I want Ottawa to get off its collective rear ... and give me better laws", Mr. Dosanjh said.
Although he has been pressing for changes in the hate laws for more than a year, he added, "the people in Ottawa have not even agreed to review those provisions".
In Toronto yesterday, the B'nai Brith human-rights organization said police allegations of a racist motive behind the January slaying of the Sikh caretaker at the Guru Nanak Singh temple in Surrey, B.C., confirm the need for an immediate crackdown on the Oliver web-site provider, Fairview Technology Centre Ltd. Its operator, Bernard Klatt, has said his service promotes free speech.
BC Tel turned down B'nai Brith's request earlier this week to pull the plug on Fairview, arguing that although the material on the controversial web site violates legal prohibitions against hate propaganda, the phone company prefers to let the B.C. government take action. Mr. Dosanjh has repeatedly refused to shut it down.
The Canadian Association of Internet Providers also rejected B'nai Brith's call to press BC Tel to act, arguing that the phone company had adequately responded.
B'nai Brith spokeswoman Thalia Klein said in an interview that an Alberta phone company recently took action against a service provider for offensive material that moved over the phone lines. In addition, a Toronto Internet service provider, Interlog, decided this week to unplug one of its customers because of inflammatory material maintained on a web site.