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News / Federal government introduces online harms bill

News / Federal government introduces online harms bill

The federal government introduced Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act, in February, with critics warning that some aspects of the legislation could threaten free expression.

The bill requires internet companies to act against harmful online content, such as child abuse and non-consensually shared adult content.

More controversially, the bill would amend provisions on hate speech in Canada’s Criminal Code and Human Rights Act, allowing longer maximum prison terms and expanding the rules for human rights complaints. Former Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin warns these changes will likely face constitutional challenges should they become law.

A new Digital Safety Commission would also be created to conduct investigations, hold hearings, establish regulations and codes of conduct on platforms, and impose penalties. Some worry that Bill C-63 fails to lay out oversight mechanisms for the commission to prevent overreach and ensure accountability.

“Illegal online content and legal but harmful online content are both real issues, but any legislation that threatens the rights of all people in Canada to express themselves freely is amongst the most sensitive our government can propose,” noted a joint letter that CAUT and other civil society organizations sent to the government. “Any policy response must put individuals first, reduce illegal online harms, be consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and guard against the possibility that it will have chilling effects on online participation.”

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