Minister of Justice fast tracking ‘hate speech’ legislation review

Minister of Justice Andrew Little says he is fast-tracking a review of legislation to look at ‘hate crime’ and ‘hate speech’. This could possibly lead to more specific laws to cover them.

However ‘fast-tracking’ does not necessarily mean a sudden knee-jerk lurch to draconian laws as some are saying is already happening. Little hopes to have aa proposal by the end of the year, and that would then have to go through Cabinet for approval and then through Parliament, so any changes look like being at least a year away – in election year,

1 News: Andrew Little plans fast-track review of hate speech laws

Justice Minister Andew Little says he’s fast-tracking a law review which could see hate crimes made a new legal offence.

He said the current law on hate speech was not thorough and strong enough and needed to change.

Mr Little said the Christchurch shootings highlighted the need for a better mechanism to deal with incidents of hate speech and other hateful deeds.

It isn’t unusual for an unprecedented crime to prompt a rethink of things that could be contributory factors (it happened after the Aramoana massacre). Firearm regulation and law changes are actually being fast-tracked, not just a review of them – and order in Council has already reclassified many types of semi-automatic weapons, and it is expected the legislation will go before Parliament next week.

He has asked justice officials to look at the laws and he was also fast-tracking a scheduled Human Rights Act review. “The conclusion I’ve drawn as the minister is that the laws are inadequate and I think we need to do better,” Mr Little said.

Mr Little said the current laws dealing with hate speech and complaints about hate speech and discriminatory action that relate to hateful expression were lacking.

The law in the Human Rights Act related to racial disharmony, but it didn’t deal with various other grounds of discrimination, he said.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act was put in place to deal with online bullying and other unpleasantness, but it didn’t tackle the “evil and hateful things that we’re seeing online”, Mr Little said.

He said the government and the Human Rights Commission will work together, and a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate.

Note “a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate”. It will be important to have a decent public debate about whatever is proposed.

“There will be important issues to debate. There will be issues about what limit should be put on freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

“We should reflect on where the lines need to be drawn and therefore, whether the laws should be struck so that they’re effective and provide some protection to people who’re otherwise vulnerable.”

I think it is going to be quite difficult trying to define hate speech and hate crime in legislation. And also to get a reasonable balance between protection from hate speech and free speech.

Stuff: Hate crime law review fast-tracked following Christchurch mosque shootings

Currently, hate-motivated hostility can be considered an “aggravating factor” in sentencing, and staff can note when a crime was motivated by a “common characteristic” such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.

Overall, there is no way of knowing how many offences are hate crimes and police do not even routinely record the ethnicity of victims.

Little said he had asked the Justice Ministry to look at relevant aspects of the Human Rights Act, the Harmful Digital Communications Act, and sections of the Crimes Act to see what laws needed to be changed or added.

“I certainly think that the laws dealing with what we call ‘hate speech’, and human rights law, are woefully inadequate,” Little said.

The tolerance for what had been considered acceptable had been too high, he said. Ethnic minorities needed to not only be accepted, but embraced and welcomed.

“It’s timely to make sure that for those who would want to hurt others – even through words – that we can curtail that.”

Somehow a legal line has to be drawn between fair reporting and debate, and speech aimed at hurting, intimidating, alienating.

The Human Rights Commission collects “race-related complaints” but says it has an incomplete picture of the problem. It has been calling for a national recording system to be set up.

The commission’s chief legal advisor Janet Anderson Bidois said there were “grave anomalies” in the current law.

“For example, the Human Rights Act prohibits the ‘incitement of disharmony’ on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour or national origins, but it does not cover incitement for reasons of religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation,” she said.

“We maintain that a discussion about our current hate speech laws is overdue, and that urgent action is required in relation to the recording of hate crimes.”

This will be a challenge for all of us.

Especially as the review has been prompted by the Christchurch mosque attacks, a lot of discussion will focus on Islam and Muslims, who have been ostracised and targeted in generalised attacks that go further than criticism.

Some attacks on Muslims have become quite sophisticated, trying to couch attacks in reasonable terms. One common tactic is to cherry pick pieces out of old religious texts and imply this is representative of  all Muslims, including by implication Muslims in New Zealand.

Claims of justification because ‘it is just facts’ don’t wash – it is easy to group selected ‘facts’ (often actually quotes from historic texts, which aren’t facts) in a derogatory or fear-mongering manner.

The same tactic can be used by cherry picking bits out of the Old Testament to smear modern Christians, but it is done far more to blanket smear modern Muslims who have a wide variety of practices and cultures.

It will be hard to stop hate and fear and intolerance of other cultures, races and religions – this can be ingrained in some people.

It will also be hard to prevent this hate and fear and intolerance being used to attack groups of people, while still allowing for relatively free speech and open discussion about things that are pertinent to life in New Zealand.

This is also a challenge for social media and blog moderators.

I will do what I can to encourage debate proposals to change hate speech and hate crime laws, but preventing these discussions from becoming hateful or from mass targeting where it is not warranted by circumstances.

29 Comments

  1. Gerrit

     /  31st March 2019

    “For example, the Human Rights Act prohibits the ‘incitement of disharmony’ on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour or national origins”

    So is calling for one racial group to “get out of the way” an incitement of harmony?

    “Well-meaning Pākehā, you must get out of the way of the Muslim community’s healing”

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/christchurch-shooting/111582476/wellmeaning-pkeh-you-must-get-out-of-the-way-of-the-muslim-communitys-healing

    Does this mean Pakeha do not have the ability, like Maori, to have “cultural knowledge and intimate connection to nature that provides solace and a well researched way forward.”

    More Pakehaphobia? More racism?

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  31st March 2019

      Of course not.

      I think that perhaps people (not just Pakeha) do need to give the Muslims a bit of space; it is well meant, but can seem intrusive.

      But anyone who attributes virtues to one race is an idiot. That penultimate paragraph is psychobabble. I know someone who is really connected to nature, a Swedish woman. Look at our own Gezza.

  2. Chuck Bird

     /  31st March 2019

    [Deleted. That is not welcome here, it is the sort of targeted generalised crap I was referring to. PG]

  3. Missy

     /  31st March 2019

    This concerns me. The UK has hate speech laws, the hate speech is subjective, so a ‘victim’ only has to feel that the speech is hateful for the police to have to respond, and if it is not deemed criminal then it is recorded as a hate incident and the person deemed to have not committed a crime is still recorded as having committed an offence. A couple of examples to illustrate how this kind of law is very draconian.

    1. A couple of years ago the then Home Secretary gave a speech outlining proposed changes to immigration legislation in relation to EU migrants post Brexit, this included bringing their requirements into line with non-EU migrants around giving biometric data. A professor at a university only read the reports in the media (he did not see or read a transcript of the speech) and reported the Home Secretary to the police for hate speech. As it was not considered hate speech it was recorded as a non-crime hate incident and the Home Secretary was then put on a database of having committed this non-crime.

    2. A couple of months ago a guy retweeted a limerick on twitter, a person took offence and reported him to the police. The officer called him to question him, he asked what crime he had committed, the officer admitted no crime had been committed but the man had to still answer his questions or he would be arrested. The Police Officer told him that he ‘had to check his thinking’.

    This is just a way of trying to criminalise thought. Who is to say what is hate speech? One of my colleagues could be reported for hate speech for calling me shortie (I am 5′ tall) if I deemed that it was said in a hateful way. To me this is the thin edge of the wedge towards thought crime legislation.

    • There are real issues with this sort of legislation for sure. We have to make sure that there is robust public discussion and scrutiny of any proposals – but they are a long way off.

      How it has worked in the UK will be a useful reference on how it can be taken too far or be too general.

  4. adamsmith1922

     /  31st March 2019

    This speech by Rowan Atkinson is quite pertinent I believe https://adamsmith.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/time-for-this-video-again/

    • Gerrit

       /  31st March 2019

      Thanks for the link. Should be compulsory viewing for all those that want to control what “hate speech” is and thus what can than be construed as the level of free speech allowed.

  5. alloytoo

     /  31st March 2019

    Hate speech legislation is the modern Blasphemy law, the sole purpose is to stifle debate. Debate which, while not necessarily nice or pleasant, is infinitely better than the alternatives.

    Once the fascists ban robust debate the silenced often find themselves with very few options.

    • “the sole purpose is to stifle debate”

      I disagree. I think the primary purpose is to try to address genuine concerns about speech that may incite, and speech that can be quite harmful to people.

      The stifling of debate is a potential side effect that we have to be wary of and try to guard against.

      But even that isn’t simple. It is common to see people justify promoting some crappy views and attacking general groups of people by claiming it is ‘debate’, when the primary purpose is not to debate – actually the opposite, I have found that people using this tactic have no interest in debate.

      • alloytoo

         /  31st March 2019

        Speech intended to incite violence is already prohibited,

        False or libelous speech already has remedies under the law. (though I would love to see some legal aid for people slandered by fake news Panderers)

        Speech outsider those parameters cannot be harmful, Actions are harmful.

        This type of legislation is tantamount to outlawing thought crimes, and everyone is guilty of thought crimes.

        Make no mistake here stifling debate is a the primary objective here because snowflakes who are “Hurt” by speech, are aways going to find something to be “hurt” by.

        @PG”I have found that people using this tactic have no interest in debate.”

        It’s common to see these people advocating censorship laws.

    • Blazer

       /  31st March 2019

      thats …debateable.🤷‍♂️

  6. david in aus

     /  31st March 2019

    If people remember the exhibit at the national museum: the Virgin Mary in a condom.

    Is that hate speech?

    Where do you draw the line?

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  31st March 2019

      It was disgusting and intended to be offensive. People had every right to express revulsion.

      • david in aus

         /  31st March 2019

        Many people were offended and it caused controversies. People protesting and there were counter protests.

        http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/90413161/flashback-a-virgin-a-condom-and-a-whole-lot-of-trouble

        Can you imagine if another religion is treated in that way? Perhaps a cartoon representation of historical figure: That Danish cartoon and Charlie Hebdo.

        It seems to me the definition of hate speech is very subjective. Laws are only as good as the Civil Servants there to interpret them.
        Otto Von Bismarck,”With bad laws and good civil servants it’s still possible to govern. But with bad civil servants, even the best laws can’t help.”

        We cannot trust some Civil Servants, as some are significantly ideologically biased. That is why you had the debacle with UK’s hate speech laws, it will be repeated, unless the bar for Hate Speech is very very high, to the extent it becomes almost meaningless.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  31st March 2019

          I was disgusted and I am from Ulster (well, my parents were) so not brought up to see much good in Catholicism !!!

        • Jay3

           /  31st March 2019

          Well, the newly appointed head of the Human Rights Commission Paul Hunt is British (although he claims dual NZ nationality) and he will have major input into the new hate speech laws for NZ – so I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses the cockup that is the UK model as his template. He joins a long list of Brits who have attained positions of power in the NZ bureaucracy and then proceeded to finger wag and tell us how the colony should be run.

    • Corky

       /  31st March 2019

      Do you remember what followed? The Muslim woman who only wanted woman to view her art. I forget the details.

  7. artcroft

     /  31st March 2019

    “Some attacks on Muslims have become quite sophisticated, trying to couch attacks in reasonable terms. One common tactic is to cherry pick pieces out of old religious texts and imply this is representative of all Muslims, including by implication Muslims in New Zealand.”

    I don’t think this is sophisticated as much as sensible. You can’t conflate all religions into one phenomenon. There is much that is unpalatable in the Old Testament, death for homosexual acts. But where in the world is it practised by christians today. No where. Islam demands the same. Where in the world is this a muslim practice today? Brunei, Saudi Arabia, Iran,…

    It’s not the same animal and shouldn’t be treated as such.

  8. Corky

     /  31st March 2019

    It boils down to something similar shown in Adam Smith’s video clip. How can it be otherwise?

    The most affected will be those with Right leaning political views; Maori and an assortment of different shades of the dying baby boomer generation..of which most on this blog belong.

    Maori??!! I can’t talk for other areas, but the amount of hate speech I hear directed at Pakeha in the CBD where I live is quite disturbing.

    Of course we all know that any new hate speech legislation won’t apply to Maori on the Marae..or Maori protected by the Treaty Of Waitangi. Oh, that means all Maori.

    A sane society wouldn’t waste time on hate speech…it would implement unlimited resources on those who act on hate speech. At the moment the government funnels too much capital into things that should come second to protecting our country with all means possible.

    • “The most affected will be those with Right leaning political views”

      That looks like a fear rather than a fact.

      • artcroft

         /  31st March 2019

        I believe Don Brash’s speaking opportunities will be seriously diminished by this legislation. I know that he will be among the first challenged, and the reason given for the challenge will be his dismissal of the need for Maori wards in local authorities.

      • Corky

         /  31st March 2019

        ”That looks like a fear rather than a fact”

        It’s a fact before the fear… in my opinion. Look what’s happening to Tommy.

        Hate against the right is more readily accepted by the media and government bureaucracy and our education ministry who directly influence the minds of our most vulnerable.

        Hate speech legislation will just confirm and amplify those preloaded prejudices against the Right and Conservative viewpoints.

  9. Alan Wilkinson

     /  31st March 2019

    The obvious place to draw the line is to distinguish between hating the people and hating what they do. But I bet that won’t happen.

  10. Gerrit

     /  31st March 2019

    it would be interesting if under the proposed “hate speech” legislation, the freedom to utter these words would be acted upon by the Police;

    “I stand here and I say I have a very very strong suspicion that there’s some group behind him and I am not afraid to say I feel Mossad is behind this.”

    https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2019/03/jews-outraged-after-mosque-leader-blames-mossad-for-christchurch-attack.html

    Be interesting if the new “hate speech” laws will only apply to Pakeha and right wing extremists.

    We already have seen the Police and the State refuse to sanctioning the Mongrel Mob leadership for not agreeing to abide by the new semi auto weapons ban.

    “Will gangs get rid of their weapons? No. Because of who we are, we can’t guarantee our own safety,””

    If white extremist were to utter what Sonny Fatu outlined regarding retaining weapons under the justification of personal safety, would the Police and State act differently?

    So would “free speech” for the Mongrel Mob equate to “hate speech” if spoken by white extremists?

    I think the State has a huge problem in defining “hate speech” without favouring one group over another. How to apply the “hate speech” legislation equally and fairly will step on more than just right wingers toes. Unless the State has perceived biases.

    • Be interesting if the new “hate speech” laws will only apply to Pakeha and right wing extremists.

      I think that there is no way the law will be framed that way. It can’t be here – that would be against other laws.

      How any law might be applied is another matter. Going by current statistics Maori will be significantly over-represented in arrests and convictions and imprisonments.

      • Gerrit

         /  31st March 2019

        Is that because Maori commit more crime? Or Tauiwi is much smarter than Maori and not get caught?

        Easiest way to turn that statistic around is to not prosecute any one who claims Maori descent. Simple; and statistically the problem is solved.

        Maori gang members are the predominate reason Maori are on the increase in the prison roster numbers.

        “Half the prison population is Māori, but half the Māori prison population are gang members. Striving to reduce the number of Māori in prison is a lot more complicated when you consider half of those prisoners are gang members whom no-one wants to see given a break.”

        https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/104107156/extra-prisoners-are-nearly-all-gang-members–thats-hardly-a-crisis

        Yet the State does very little to combat Maori gangs. Note that Sonny Fatu gets a free ride with his “need to retain their weaponry” comments.

        So I don’t buy into your Maori imprisonment rate statistic as having any merit. When Maori gangs are on the right side of the law and Maori imprisonment rates are still higher than 15%, lets talk again.