Trudeau Liberals to pursue internet censorship bill against 'online hate'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said legal internet content must be regulated, despite issuing so-called support for free speech. 'The government believes in free speech,' he testified at the Emergencies Act inquiry in Ottawa on September 9, 2022.

Trudeau Liberals to pursue internet censorship bill against 'online hate'
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The Trudeau Liberals are reviewing "international best practices" to censor the internet, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

"We are studying what’s working in foreign jurisdictions and we’re definitely working with different online entities including online companies," said Justice Minister Arif Virani. "We’ve seen great progress."

However, he provided no examples of legal content they would censor when asked by reporters.

Asked when Canadians could expect online harm legislation, Virani replied, "It is really critical that we get this right."

"You didn’t answer the question," said a reporter. "We are looking at international best practices," he countered.

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 and terrorist content.

A July 29, 2021, Technical Paper and Discussion Paper pondered hiring a Digital Safety Commissioner to investigate anonymous complaints, conduct closed-door hearings and block websites, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

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 delays have stalled progress after two rounds of consultations.

"We are working on it very, very diligently in terms of aspects that relate to the Criminal Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act and how we address issues that relate to what we’re seeing online," said Virani.

On confronting antisemitism in October, Virani said the feds are committed to reintroducing online harm legislation but remained mum on a timeline.

"We need a safe and secure digital environment as much as we need safe streets in our communities," he told the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) — one of the many Canadian groups to support protections against 'online hate.'

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Chinese Canadian National Council for Justice have also called for online harm legislation.

"The time to act is now," penned CIJA's vice-president of external affairs Richard Marceau in an editorial. "We can have legislation that acts as a shield against the dangers of 'online hate' while balancing the right to freedom of expression."

But Virani contends the feds need to strike a balance, which has yet to come to fruition despite their best efforts.

"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," said the minister.

"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.

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

"The Minister of Justice has done the difficult work of getting legislation ready to improve protections and ensure we have the best level of online safety possible, and he will have a lot to say about that when the legislation is introduced," Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters November 28.

"Why are we still waiting for it?" asked a reporter. "Because it is complicated," he replied.

Trudeau has repeatedly said legal internet content must be regulated, despite issuing support for free speech. "The government believes in free speech," he testified at the Emergencies Act inquiry in Ottawa on September 9, 2022.

However, the prime minister contends that social media has become a petri dish for 'anger' and 'hate.' "[…] that is different from anything we have seen before, difficult to counter, and it is destabilizing our democracy," he said.

Alphabet and Meta faced-off against the federal government over Bill C-18, the Online News Act, on the grounds it could censor speech in the future.

CIJA explicitly said tech giants must impose financial penalties for non-compliant parties, citing "a significant uptick in antisemitic and anti-Israel conversations […] closely aligned with the Israel-Gaza conflict." They have urged the feds for greater oversight on social media.

X countered, suggesting that blocking websites through a regulatory framework is consistent with authoritarian regimes in North Korea and China. 

"People around the world have been blocked from accessing Twitter and other services in a similar manner [...] under the false guise of 'online safety,' impeding peoples' rights to access information online," they penned in a letter. 

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