This hybrid half-day conference, convened by McGill University's Max Bell School of Public Policy and the Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism of the Faculty of Law, explored the legal and policy dimensions of these tensions following the Supreme Court of Canada’s latest decision on the interactions among freedom of expression, human dignity, and equality law. The Court’s 2021 decision in Ward v Quebec, which involved allegations of discrimination against Montreal comedian Mike Ward, reset the boundaries among these values, circumscribing the rights of minorities and of peoples with disabilities, among others.
Resolving the tensions among rights also has implications for the forthcoming federal legislation on regulating of online content and safety based on the development of the Court’s understanding of “social harm.”
This conference offered a unique opportunity in an intimate setting for students, scholars and the community to discuss these pressing issues of social justice with leaders of Canada’s human rights institutions, as well as prominent constitutional and human rights litigators, academics and anti-racism organizations.
During the Luncheon remarks, participants had the honour of hearing from Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry whose successful tenure is ending in 2022 and will reflect on the role of human rights commissions and national human rights institutions around the world in creating a culture of human rights and respect for all.
Watch the recordings of the conference's panels below.
The Intersection of Freedom and Equality
Pearl Eliadis, Stéphanie Fournier & Julius Grey
This first session introduced the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Ward case, starting with a review of the legal and policy framework in Canada at the intersection of equality, freedom of expression, and anti-discrimination legislation. Mes Grey and Fournier represented Mike Ward and the Quebec Human Rights Commission, respectively, before the Supreme Court of Canada and offered their insights on the legal and policy implications under the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Human Rights and Human Harms
Pablo Gilabert, Mohammed Hashim, and Fo Niemi
This session examined the lived experiences of racialized and marginalized people and communities who have encountered hate and discriminatory speech in the wake of the Ward case in Quebec. Academic, policy and community perspectives were discussed, including the Canadian Race Relations Foundations’ recent international analysis and report on services available to victims of hate, and reflections on the role of dignity as a central concept in human rights and social justice.
Human rights and democratic systems social responses: Impacts on the future regulation of speech and online safety
Marie-Claude Landry, Philippe-André Tessier, Vincent Rigby
The Supreme Court’s decision in Ward has affected the balance between equality right, the right to reputation, and freedom of expression in Canadian and international law. It has further developed the Court’s emerging formulation of the concept of “social harm” and its implications for the regulation of freedom of expression. The discussion also has implications for the federal government’s current efforts to provide a regulatory framework that is sensitive to national security concerns and online safety. This session explored these issues in conversation with the leaders of two of Canada’s prominent human rights commissions.
The Role of Human Rights Institutions
Me Marie-Claude Landry has led the Canadian Human Rights Commission through a critical time in its development and has been an outspoken voice in challenging racism, hate and intolerance across Canada. Chief Commissioner Landry offered her reflections on where we are in Canada today, and the role of national human rights institutions in Canada and internationally.
To learn more about the Humour, Hate and Harm Conference held at the Max Bell School in November 2022, please see the full website description of speakers and recommended readings.