Justice Minister Andrew Little says he is fast-tracking a review of New Zealand’s existing hate speech legislation in light of the Christchurch shooting.
The review will consider whether New Zealand laws, as they stand, create appropriate mechanisms for dealing with hate crimes. As part of this, Little will be considering whether to make hate-motivated violence a separate charge under the Crimes Act, as has been done in the United Kingdom (at the moment, hate-motivations based on race, religion or other common characteristics can be considered an aggravating factor when courts sentence offenders for existing charges, but it is not in itself grounds for bringing a claim to court). More controversially, the review will also consider whether hate speech laws should be extended in scope. As it stands, hate speech in New Zealand is only punishable if it incites others to violence. Some – like Little – believe this doesn’t go far enough. “It’s time to make sure that for those who would want to hurt others – even through words – that we can curtail that,” he says, “[at the moment] I certainly think the laws dealing with what we call ‘hate speech’, and human rights law, are woefully inadequate”.
Although not strictly legislation-based, Little says he will also be considering current police practices as part of his review. In particular, Little is expected to focus on whether the police should begin recording instances of hate crimes. At the moment, the police force’s policy is to collect ethnicity data on thd perpetrator, but not the victim. “I would have though it would be useful data to have,” says Little. In addition, hate crimes are not recorded as a separate offence. Little has indicated he would like to see the New Zealand police take a stance similar to that in the United Kingdom, where hate crimes are recorded and prosecuted separately.
Little says the review – which was always scheduled to take place – has been fast-tracked following a series of racially motivated incidents which occurred in the aftermath of the shooting. Shortly after the shooter was apprehended, people reported swastikas appearing on fences across Christchurch. City Council contractors worked around the clock to remove the graffiti, destroying one piece of racist vandalism every day since the March 15 attacks. CCTV also caught one bus driver refusing to allow a women in hijab to board a bus. Red Bus, the bus company in question, says they have reviewed the footage. A spokesperson for the company says the complaint is justified, and says they will be reviewing the driver’s “completely inappropriate” actions.
Little says little incidents like these show more needs to be done to protect minorities against abuse, but if Little truly wishes to pass his reforms, he’ll need the support of the majority of the house – something which looks unlikely at the moment. National has expressed hesitant support for the reforms, but say they reserve the right to retract their support if they believe Little’s reforms will unduly limit free speech. ACT Minister David Seymour is even firmer in his stance – in a press release sent on April 1st, he said “[New Zealand] law is already equipped to deal with such offences”.