Canada seeks Digital Safety Commission, imposing hefty fines for non-compliance.

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In a bold move that is raising eyebrows and concerns, the Liberal government of Canada has unveiled its plan to combat what it deems “online hate.” At the center of this initiative is the proposed Online Harms Act, also known as Bill C-63, and it’s stirring up quite the controversy.

The bill, detailed in a technical briefing released to reporters, outlines hefty fines for online speech and stringent punishments, including the possibility of life imprisonment for hate crimes. The aim is clear: curbing the spread of harmful content, including materials that incite violence, promote terrorism, or fuel hatred.

But let’s take a critical look at what this means for freedom of speech. The bill proposes amendments to the Criminal Code, introducing a standalone hate crime offense applicable across all criminal offenses. While the intention may be to denounce and deter hateful conduct, the penalties extend all the way up to life imprisonment. That’s right, life imprisonment for expressing certain viewpoints online.

The bill doesn’t stop there. Maximum punishments for existing hate propaganda offenses are set to see substantial increases. Advocating genocide could now lead to life imprisonment, and other offenses, when prosecuted by indictment, could result in up to five years behind bars.

One glaring aspect of the bill is the introduction of a definition of “hatred” based on a past decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. But how do you precisely define “content that foments hatred”? The bill attempts to pinpoint it as “content that expresses detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.” This is further nuanced with the condition that, given the context, it is likely to foment detestation or vilification.

Critics argue that this bill poses a threat to freedom of speech, turning the online sphere into what they call a “Digital Enslavement Prison.” The bill seems to grant significant power to the authorities, allowing them to enforce large fines and potentially bankrupt individuals who fail to comply with the set regulations.

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As the Canadian government proposes a Digital Safety Commission, questions linger about the balance between combating harmful content and preserving the fundamental right to express diverse opinions. The conversation is far from over, but the concerns are real, as the prospect of severe penalties for online speech hangs ominously in the air.

Sources:

Backgrounder – Government of Canada introduces legislation to combat harmful content online, including the sexual exploitation of children.

Backgrounder

OTTAWA, February 26, 2024

On February 26, 2024, the Government of Canada introduced the Online Harms Act, legislation to make online platforms responsible for addressing harmful content and for creating a safer online space that protects all people in Canada, especially children.

The Bill would create stronger online protections for children and better safeguard everyone in Canada from online hate and other types of harmful content. It would hold online platforms, including livestreaming and user-uploaded adult content services, accountable for reducing users’ exposure to harmful content on their platforms and help prevent its spread.

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For too long, we have tolerated a system where online platforms have offloaded their responsibilities onto parents, expecting them to protect their kids from harms that platforms create or amplify.

The Bill’s core components are:

  1. The introduction of a new legislative and regulatory framework, the Online Harms Act, to reduce exposure to seven kinds of harmful content on online platforms, including livestreaming and adult content services. This new Act would also create a new Digital Safety Commission to enforce the framework and a Digital Safety Ombudsperson to provide support for users and victims;
  2. Changes to the Criminal Code to better address hate crime and hate propaganda;
  3. Changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act to allow individuals and groups to file complaints against people who post hate speech online; and
  4. The enhancement of the laws to protect children from sexual exploitation through amendments to an Act respecting the mandatory reporting of internet child pornography by persons who provide an internet service.

Everyone in Canada should be able to access an online environment where they can express themselves freely, without fearing for their safety or their life. The Government of Canada will always respect Canadians’ constitutional right to freedom of expression, which is essential in a healthy democracy.  However, there is also an urgent need for better safeguards for social media users, particularly children. This is why the new framework is focused on seven types of the most damaging and extremely harmful content online.

Online platforms, including livestreaming and adult content services, must be transparent, and they must be held accountable. The safety of everyone in Canada, especially children and society’s most vulnerable, depends on it.

www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/news/2024/02/backgrounder–government-of-canada-introduces-legislation-to-combat-harmful-content-online-including-the-sexual-exploitation-of-children.html

www.msn.com/en-ca/news/canada/online-harms-liberals-seek-to-create-digital-safety-commission-new-ombudsperson/ar-BB1iTlEo

h/t Skullduggery

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