It’s time for a Human Rights Act

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I wrote the following letter today to the Mayor and City Council in Portland, Oregon where I live at this time.

To the Mayor of Portland and the City Council,

The actions of one person this weekend who killed two men who were protecting two young women from the angry and racist remarks and actions of that individual made me begin to think seriously about what is free speech and what is termed “hate speech”.

I consider “hate speech” words that suggest or incite harmful actions against others  whether the suggestion is covert or overt. I do not consider that kind of speech “free speech”.

Everyone who lives in our city, state and country has the right to feel safe. Would you feel safe if someone called out you or someone in your family as different and therefore a person who should be eradicated or removed from this country?

If someone who is mentally unstable yells out bigoted and negative comments in public about someone based on how they look, their skin color, apparent religion or sexual orientation, with an overt or covert implication of violence, is that freedom of speech?

Our regulations and laws, are created to provide guidelines in how we are to interact with each other so that all in our society can have a relatively peaceful and productive existence. Therefore, actions such as murder, theft, bodily harm to others and rape have been out-lawed.

It appears that we need another guideline now in how to treat all with dignity and respect and provide a safe environment for everyone to live in with a ban on words spoken in public that focus on one group and is hateful and suggestive of harming members of that group.

Racists hide behind the term “free speech” to freely espouse their negative views of other who are different from themselves and ultimately to take action against those individuals or groups. 

Canada has a Human Rights Act that forbids hate propaganda. The laws based on this act prohibit advocating or promoting genocide and prohibit inciting hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace.  

 “Hate propaganda” is defined as “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide or the communication of which by any person would constitute an offence under section 319.”

Section 319 prescribes penalties from a fine to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years for anyone who incites hatred against any identifiable group.

Section 318 prescribes imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years for anyone who advocates genocide. The Code defines genocide as the destruction of an “identifiable group.” The Code defines an “identifiable group” as “any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

Then the provinces and Canadian Territories have similar provisions. For example, for Prince Edward Island:

No person shall publish, display or broadcast, or permit to be published, displayed or broadcast on lands or premises, or in a newspaper or through a radio or television broadcasting station or by means of any other medium, any notice, sign, symbol, implement or other representation indicating discrimination or an intention to discriminate against any person or class of persons.

It’s time to put an end to this type of hateful behavior which many times devolves into violence and it should begin here, in Portland, where this aggressive act based on bigotry and hate has brought attention to this issue here and around the world.

It is now in your hands to create provisions in the City of Portland that protect all of us from actions that come from words based on bigotry and hate.

Dora Taylor

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