Swastika flag taken down from central Alberta property, questions regarding hate crime remain

A swastika flag hanging at a rural home in central Alberta has come down, but did it fit the definition of hate speech under the criminal code?

EDMONTON (CityNews) – The swastika flag hanging on a property in central Alberta has come down voluntarily by the rural property owner.

The flag was replaced with a pirate flag, now some are questioning whether hanging this flag on private property is a hate crime, and what charges it could carry.

“The first is the criminal code and the criminal code prohibits communications of statements that willfully promote hatred,” explained Eric Adams, a law professor at the University of Alberta. “Doing so is very rare in Canada under the criminal code.”

Adams explains it’s very difficult to prove intent when it comes to hate speech in a court of law, the more likely scenario he says, is that someone could make a complaint to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

“An order to remove the flag and two, very likely, a fine. And that’s under the Alberta Human Rights Act.”

While hate speech is a criminal code offense, Adams says it’s only used in the most extreme scenarios.

“There are a tremendous amount of severe consequences that flow from a criminal conviction. And when you’re criminalizing speech, the courts in Canada have made clear that it has to be for the most extreme versions of promoting hatred, it’s not because you disliked this person,” added Adams.

Although it’s hard to prosecute, Adams says there’s no free pass when it comes to hate speech in Canada, but says a human rights commission complaint would be more effective.

“It has to be a symbol that’s displayed before the public. They’re not capturing things in your basement. They’re not capturing things in your bedroom. They are capturing flags that you fly at the outskirts of your property that are meant to be seen by passersby.”

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