The Toronto Star
Sunday, March 21, 1999

Providers must ban hate on Internet, activists say

But censorship not the answer, say free-speech advocates

by Tanya Ho

Hate propoganda on the Internet should be opposed as much as child pornography, a Vancouver lawyer said during a discussion about spreading hatred through cyberspace.

"We do not tolerate the dissemination of child pornography. I do not think we should tolerate the dissemination of hate propaganda", Valmond Romilly told an international symposium at Osgoode Hall last night on Hate on the Internet.

The symposium, sponsored by the B'Nai Brith Canada's League for Human Rights and the Institute for International Affairs, is one of many events being held across Toronto to mark the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today.

Romilly said Internet service providers should be held liable and pay penalties if they allow the dissemination of racist propoganda on their Web services.

"I myself am a techno-moron, but one thing I can always download is hate", he said.

Richard Rosenberg, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, said it is almost impossible to make Internet service providers responsible for the content of Web sites and e-mail on their networks.

He estimates there are as many as 1,475 Web sites dedicated to spreading hate on the Internet worldwide, according to figures he received from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

But he added, "I don't want Internet service providers to edit the sites for me."

In British Columbia, the provincial telecoms carrier, BC Tel, doesn't control the content of conversations on its telephone lines, so Internet service providers shouldn't be censoring content on their networks, Rosenberg added.

"I have no faith in them making these kind of decisions."

Hedy Fry, federal minister in charge of multiculturalism and the status of women, who opened the symposium, said racist acts are on the rise in Canada.

Along with tightening government legislation to control hateful acts, Fry said the federal government has to work more closely with organizations, like B'Nai Brith.

This would help give people the skills "to take community action as hate bubbles up", she said.

"Hate is insidious if you allow it to breed and fester; it becomes part of the acceptable norm", she warned.

Citing the desecration of Jewish cemeteries in Ontario, Fry emphasized her point, adding:

"We can say these are isolated incidents, but it's a slippery slope when we ignore the beginnings."

Fry said few countries, except Germany, were taking action to prevent hate propaganda on the Internet.

There were 240 reported cases of anti-Semitism across Canada last year, up from 212 in 1997, a B'Nai Brith report released last month showed.

About 52 per cent of those cases occurred in Toronto.

Copyright © 1999 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.