Canadian Liberal Government Introduces “Online Harms” Bill

    The legislation proposes to control content used to intimidate a child

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    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has unveiled a legislative proposal that includes the creation of new regulatory bodies and changes to a number of laws to address online abuse.

    The Online Harms Act, introduced this February 26 in Ottawa, proposes controlling seven categories of harmful online content. Those categories include content used to bully a child and content that encourages a child to harm themselves.

    They also include categories such as hate speech, content that incites violence or terrorism, content that sexualizes children or victims of sexual violence, and sexual content published without consent.

    The legislation would allow the federal government to establish a five-member Digital Safety Commission with the mandate to enforce the new rules. This commission would be empowered to order the removal of online content that sexualizes children or victims of sexual violence, as well as content of a sexual nature that is published without consent.The government also proposes establishing a digital security ombudsman who would offer support to victims and guidance to social media companies.

    Increased penalties for spreading hate online

    The bill also proposes amending the Penal Code to increase penalties for spreading hate online. It would also increase the maximum penalty for advocating genocide from five years to life in prison.The legislation will also make it a separate offense to commit a hate crime.

    The Liberals promised this legislation during their 2021 election campaign.The Canadian Human Rights Act will be amended to allow complaints about online hate speech to be filed directly with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

    The legislation would impose new responsibilities on online platforms. Companies must evaluate, minimize and inform users about risks, in addition to providing tools that allow them to flag harmful content.

    The proposed law will force platforms to remove certain content, such as content that sexualizes children or victims of sexual violence, as well as sexual content that is posted without consent, within 24 hours of filing a complaint.

    Online platforms covered by this proposed new law include social media sites, live streaming platforms, and user-uploaded adult content.Companies that do not comply with the new regulations could be fined up to $10 million or six percent of their global revenue.

    Liberals promised this legislation in their 2021 campaign

    The Liberals pledged during the 2021 election campaign to present an online harms legislative proposal within the first 100 days of their re-election. Instead of meeting that self-imposed deadline, the government waited until March 2022 to announce that it had created an expert advisory group as the next step in developing legislation to tackle harmful content online.

    New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh indicated his party will support the bill, but criticized the Liberals for failing to deliver on their promise earlier.Their inaction has meant that children were hurt. That children were actually exploited online because liberals failed to act, Singh said.

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