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Canada signs protocol to fight online hate

Canada has become the first non-European country to sign a protocol against racism and xenophobic material on the internet. The Justice Minister for Canada suggested that hate sites are contributing to terrorist activity.12 Jul 2005

The Convention on Cybercrime

The Convention on Cybercrime, signed in November 2001, became the first international treaty on crimes committed via the internet and other computer networks, dealing particularly with infringements of copyright, computer-related fraud, child pornography and violations of network security.

It also contains a series of more controversial powers and procedures such as the search of computer networks and interception.

To enter into force the Convention had to be ratified by five states, including at least three Member States of the Council of Europe. This was achieved in July 2004. The UK, US and Japan are amongst 31 countries that have signed the Convention but are yet to ratify it. Ratification requires implementation of the Convention's principles into national laws.

The Additional Protocol to the Convention on cybercrime, concerning the criminalisation of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems, was introduced by the Council of Europe in November 2002. It defines racist and xenophobic material as "any written material, any image or any other representation of ideas or theories, which advocates, promotes or incites hatred, discrimination or violence, against any individual or group of individuals, based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin, as well as religion if used as a pretext for any of these factors."

The measure makes it an offence to distribute or otherwise make available such material on a web site. The term "make available" covers links to such web sites. The term "to the public" means that private communications or expressions transmitted by email will fall outside the scope of the Protocol.

Although the US supported the Convention on Cybercrime and was consulted on the drafting of the Protocol, it is not expected to sign it. This is due to the fact that the dissemination of offensive material through the internet is generally protected as free speech – a US Constitutional principle.

Canada is the 28th country to sign the Protocol. The Protocol also requires five ratifications to enter into force; to date it has four.

Canada

Canada has some of the most comprehensive laws against hate crimes in the world. In October 2004, the federal Government committed to taking measures to strengthen Canada's ability to combat racism, hate speech and hate crimes, both domestically and around the world. Signing the Protocol responds to this commitment and is a component of Canada's Action Plan Against Racism, launched in March 2005.

Canada's Justice Minister, The Honourable Irwin Cotler, upon signing the Protocol on Friday said: "Only greater international cooperation can help eradicate the scourge of racist and hate-related material made increasingly accessible over the Internet."

He added: "No one country alone can combat racist hate, particularly cyberhate."

Cotler was in Cambridge on 7/7 – the day of the London terrorist attacks. He believes that there is an intrinsic link between the websites that the Protocol is aimed against and terrorist activity:

"This [online hate] is an anonymous, borderless faceless crime. We've gone from five hate sites on the internet in 1995 to 5,000 in 2005. These are horrific sites. They're used for purposes of recruitment. They particularly target the young. It is predatory hate of the worst kind."

He concluded: "We believe that incitement to hatred is the most proximate cause of terrorism itself. Therefore, if you're combating incitement to hatred, you're combating terrorism."