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Canada’s Liberal Government Advances “Online Harms” Censorship Bill

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Canada’s Justice Minister Arif Virani has advanced a highly controversial bill, named Bill C-63, proposing comprehensive new legislation aimed at addressing online “hate” speech.

We obtained a copy of the bill for you here.

The bill covers seven types of harmful material, from content sexually exploiting or re-victimizing children and survivors, to content promoting violence and extremism.

But it also outlaws online “hatred,” so-called “hate speech,” and forms of deepfakes.

In an attempt to decrease the prevalence of harmful content, this legislation puts the onus on online platforms to be accountable and transparent about how they handle such content.

Platforms like social media and live-streaming services are included under the legislation’s “online services” umbrella.

The bill would also create a new “standalone hate crime offense that would apply to every offence in the Criminal Code and in any other Act of Parliament, allowing penalties up to life imprisonment to denounce and deter this hateful conduct as a crime in itself,” – the briefing explained.

The proposed law would also raise the maximum punishments for the four hate offenses from five years to life imprisonment for advocating genocide and from two years to five years for the others when persecuted by way of indictment.

The Liberal government states that the bill’s proposed regulations centre on the platforms most frequented by Canadians. However, the specifics will depend on whether these platforms meet the eventual user thresholds. Over time, the government may hold other platforms accountable, if these platforms end up posing “a significant risk of harm.”

Additionally, Bill C-63 proposes establishing a censorship organization, which will oversee digital “safety” issues. This organization is anticipated to include a five-member digital safety commission, an independent digital safety ombudsman, and a digital safety office. These will assist in addressing Canadians’ grievances about platforms’ content moderation decisions.

In a recent critique of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approach to regulating online speech, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre didn’t mince words. He accused Trudeau of labeling any speech he personally dislikes as “hate speech.” This accusation comes amidst discussions surrounding Canada’s proposed online harms bill, a legislation echoing similar efforts in other western democracies aimed at curbing hate speech, terrorist incitements, and violent content online.

Poilievre’s comments reflect a growing concern about the potential for such laws to be misused for broader censorship. This concern is not unfounded, given precedents in other countries where similar laws have veered into the realm of suppressing free speech. The Conservative leader’s stance suggests a keen awareness of these risks.

The term “woke authoritarian agenda” was used by Poilievre to describe the draft of the online harms bill, which he and his party are committed to opposing. He draws attention to the Trudeau administration’s handling of the 2022 “Freedom Convoy,” a protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Poilievre points out the government’s extreme measures, including freezing citizens’ bank accounts, as indicative of a mindset that easily conflates criticism with hate speech.

Highlighting the Trudeau government’s actions during the pandemic, Poilievre remarked, “Justin Trudeau said anyone who criticized him during the pandemic was engaging in hate speech.” This statement underscores a fear that the government might use the proposed legislation to silence dissent in various scenarios.

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