The Canadian government plans to introduce “comprehensive” regulations that target “hate speech” on social media platforms.
The regulations will reportedly be tabled in 2021 and are being introduced “to promote a safer and more inclusive online environment.”
A briefing note on the new regulations from Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s department stated:
“We are working to introduce regulations to reduce the spread of illegal content, including hate speech, in order to promote a safer and more inclusive online environment. We want to protect Canadians online.”
The briefing added that: “Social media platforms can also be used to threaten, intimidate, bully and harass people, or used to promote racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, misogynist and homophobic views that target communities, put people’s safety and risk and undermine Canada’s social cohesion or democracy.”
Before winning reelection in 2019, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party made tackling online hate speech a major priority and proposed giving social media platforms a 24-hour deadline to remove hate speech or face “significant financial penalties.”
Last September, the Canadian government doubled down on its threat to regulate online hate speech with Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Catherine McKenna, warning: “We don’t have to regulate everything but if you can’t regulate yourselves, governments will.” One day later, the Canadian government promised to “redouble its effort by taking action on online hate.”
Trudeau has also expressed conflicting views on free speech. In October, he compared drawing Muhammed cartoons to “yelling fire in a crowded movie theatre” and said there are “limits” to free speech after a terrorist attack in France where a teacher was beheaded after showing Charlie Hebdo cartoons that depict the Prophet Mohammed.
After facing heavy criticism, Trudeau then backtracked on these anti-free speech comments and stated: “I think it is more important to continue to defend freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Our artists help us to reflect and challenge our views, and they contribute to our society.”
Critics have warned that online hate speech laws pose a threat to free speech because they risk criminalizing and jailing people for expressing controversial views.
But these warnings have largely fallen on deaf ears with Canada being just one of several countries to propose or introduce hate speech laws and regulations over the last few months.
For example, Scotland’s controversial “hate crime” bill, which would sanction the possession of “inflammatory media” and “problematic” social media posts, is looking increasingly likely to pass. And Norway recently passed a new law under which people can be jailed for hate speech in private conversations.