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Canadian Government Is Accused of Gaslighting Criticism of Its Online Censorship Bill As “Clickbait”

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Canada’s government has already had to go on the defensive regarding its latest controversial legislative effort, the Online Harms Act (Bill C-63).

It’s the one that opponents say seeks to legislate for “thoughtcrime” and contains, on the extreme end of the envisaged measures, punishment such as life in prison for specific “(hate) speech offenses.”

And that defense of the bill includes a cabinet minister who is pushing for its adoption dismissing articles critical of the bill as “clickbait.”

Observers questioning the government’s internet-regulating initiatives over the past few years, including the long-debated and divisive bills C-11 and C-18, see the same pattern now when it comes to C-63.

One of the reasons behind Justice Minister Arif Virani advice that he wrote in a response post on X – namely, to “skip the clickbait and learn more” about the allegedly true nature of the bill – might be the vocal criticism the draft is receiving from prominent figures, only a couple of weeks after it was first unveiled to the public.

Among the critics is Canada’s former Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, who told a podcast that while the authorities have the obligation to tackle challenges brought on by new technologies and media – this, in a nutshell, isn’t the way.

Specifically, McLachlin was concerned about the plan to amend the Criminal Code so that four offenses that will be treated as hate propaganda can result in maximum punishment.

“We have not seen this in speech law, expression law, to my knowledge – life sentences for sending out some words,” she continued, adding, “That’s heavy. And it will, I suspect, be challenged (in the courts).”

Beside hate speech and incitement to violence or terrorism, the bill is designed to go after content deemed be bullying children, and sexualizing children or victims of sexual violence.

Meanwhile, the article that resulted in Virani’s “clickbait” verdict against it was published in the Spectator under the title, “Trudeau’s Orwellian online harms bill” and then shared by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood.

Atwood remarked that if the article’s interpretation of the proposed legislation was true, then, “The possibilities for revenge false accusations + thoughtcrime stuff are sooo inviting!”

Speaking for the Canadian press, Virani once again brought up that the bill does not consider “awful but lawful” content as hate speech – and includes “expressions of detestation and vilification” rather than insults and impolite jokes.

However, commented the Canadian Civil Liberties Association: “The broad criminal prohibitions on speech in the bill risk stifling public discourse and criminalizing political activism.”

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