OTTAWA -- Canada's special envoy for combatting antisemitism says she's "very interested" in exploring the idea of removing religion as a possible defence against hate speech charges.

Deborah Lyons, whose title also includes preserving Holocaust remembrance, appeared this morning before a parliamentary committee that is studying antisemitism on university campuses.

Jewish leaders, students and faculty have been voicing concerns over an increase in hate speech and violence since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war last fall.

Lyons says she believes universities' equity, diversity and inclusion strategies are failing, and her office is working to develop better training on countering antisemitism.

Members of Parliament asked Lyons about the role police and prosecutors play in laying hate speech charges, and whether Criminal Code changes are needed.

They pointed to Quebec prosecutors' recent decision not to charge an imam over comments said during a prayer -- a scenario Lyons says she is discussing with the government.

During a demonstration in Montreal last fall, the imam prayed in Arabic for God "to take care of the aggressor Zionists."

Using the case as an example, Bloc Quebecois MP Rheal Fortin asked Lyons whether she supports his party's proposal to eliminate a section of the Criminal Code that would allow the use of religious beliefs or a religious text as a defence against the promotion of hatred and antisemitism.

She said she is "very interested in exploring this as an option," given her belief that the defence doesn't "stand the ground in these very difficult times."

Still, Lyons said she is no ready to offer a final opinion on the matter and is still discussing it with Justice Department officials.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2024.