Liberals table promised 'online harms' censorship legislation

According to the new legislation, victims of "hate speech" could be compensated up to $20,000, and stand-alone hate crimes would be added to the Criminal Code with up to life imprisonment.

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The Trudeau Liberals have tabled their "online harms" bill. 

The Department of Canadian Heritage is proposing Bill C-63, An Act to enact the Online Harms Act, which according to the Liberals, is supposed to provide protections for Canadians accessing harmful content online.

According to a government briefing, Canadian users are "exposed to harmful content at increasing rates." However, the briefing did not define harmful content.

Before the winter parliamentary recess, the Trudeau Liberals quietly reviewed the "international best practices" on internet censorship. But Justice Minister Arif Virani did not provide examples at the time of legal content they would censor.

"We are working on it very, very diligently in terms of aspects that relate to the Criminal Code, and the Canadian Human Rights Act," he said.

Cabinet in June 2021 introduced Bill C-36, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code, that proposed $70,000 fines for legal content deemed "likely to foment detestation or vilification." Among the categories of harm identified by Parliament then included 'hate speech.' 

However, Bill C-36 died on the order paper when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap election that August. He pledged new legislation within 100 days of his new mandate, but that promise fell through.

On February 14, Trudeau renewed that promise in response to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh during Question Period. “The Prime Minister has an obligation to back up his words with action,” he said.

“It’s been 814 days and still nothing has happened.”.

Trudeau told reporters on February 20 the bill would focus on protecting the kids, not censorship. "We need to do a better job keeping kids safe online from child sexual exploitation," he added the following day.

Trudeau has since blamed the right wing for mischaracterizing the bill as internet censorship legislation — a sentiment Virani maintains.

“I want to be crystal clear about what the Online Harms Act does not do — it does not undermine freedom of speech. It enhances free expression by empowering all people to safely participate in online debate,” he told reporters on Monday.

Briefing documents say the law will "better address and denounce hate propaganda” by proposing several amendments to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act and adding a definition of “hatred” to section 319 of the Criminal Code. 

"We've got freedom of expression on one hand, which creates a vibrant democracy and allows us to differentiate ourselves from other parts of the world," Virani said in a statement last December.

"And we've got the pressure to ensure that when people are communicating online, they're not actually targeting groups, they're not promoting or vilifying groups, promoting hatred or violence against them," he added.

It would also amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to clearly stipulate that online ‘hate speech’ is discrimination and empower people to file complaints.

According to the new legislation, victims of 'hate speech' could be compensated up to $20,000, with stand-alone hate crimes being added to the Criminal Code.

Four in ten Canadians are exposed to online 'hate speech' on a weekly basis, contends the government briefing.

Concerning Bill C-36, 9,218 groups and individuals petitioned Heritage Canada with the majority opposed, reported Blacklock’s Reporter. Critics, including lawyers and free speech advocates, claim it would quash political dissent.

Rebel News attempted to seek clarification from government officials on Bill C-63 during a technical briefing Monday but did not receive a response at the time of writing.

Though it remains unclear how Ottawa will define 'hate speech,' the Official Opposition leader suggests Trudeau considers any "speech he hates" as 'hate speech.' Among the examples cited are COVID pandemic critics and parental rights advocates.

Poilievre left an ominous warning for proponents of Bill C-63, claiming they will likely face censure should they express "unacceptable views." 

The 'online harms' legislation would permit penalties of up to life imprisonment for those "advocating genocide," and from two to five years for those prosecuted by way of indictment.

Additional amendments to the Criminal Code include raising the maximum punishments for the four hate propaganda offences and designing a new peace bond to prevent hate propaganda offences and hate crimes.

"They've said this bill will include, among other things, a ban on so-called online hate speech," Poilievre told reporters. "As you know, the Conservatives a decade ago repealed section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which the Liberals tried reintroducing in the last parliamentary term," he added.

"The Conservatives oppose the reintroduction of these provisions and the Liberals approach to so-called online hate speech?" asked a reporter. "Yes, we will oppose Justin Trudeau's latest attack on freedom of expression," replied the MP.

As a result, the federal government intends on creating three new bureaucracies to implement Bill C-63, including a digital safety commission, a digital safety ombudsman and a digital safety office.

A Technical Paper and Discussion Paper published in July 2021 pondered the creation of a Digital Safety Commissioner to investigate anonymous complaints, conduct closed-door hearings and block websites, reported Blacklock’s Reporter. 

The newly announced Digital Safety Commission of Canada will ensure that operators of social media services comply with the Online Harms Act, who are expected to act transparently and remain accountable to online safety.

Concerning the Digital Safety Ombudsperson of Canada, its mandate is to provide support to and consult social media users and victims of online exploitation. It will also make recommendations to social media services, the Commission and the federal government.

Whereas the Digital Safety Office of Canada will act in a supporting role to the Digital Safety Commission of Canada and the Digital Safety Ombudsperson of Canada in the fulfillment of their mandates, reads the legislation’s preamble.

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