Just as the House of Commons broke for a summer recess, the government introduced a bill which would change how online hate speech is dealt with under Canadian law and create a new complaints process under the Canadian Human Rights Act.
But while Bill C-36 marks the beginning of the Liberal government’s plans for tackling illegal content online, there is speculation that a federal election could be called before Parliament returns to deal with the proposed legislation in the fall.
A technical paper outlining Ottawa’s plans to combat other illegal content online — including terrorist content, child sexual abuse material and incitements to violence — was also announced Wednesday and will be available publicly this summer.
C-36 would pave the way for complaints about online hate speech to be submitted to the Canadian Human Rights Commission and potentially handed over to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal for adjudication.
Several potential remedies would be available, including payments from perpetrators to hate-speech victims of up to $20,000.
The respondent to a complaint could also be ordered to remove the hate speech or pay a penalty to the government of up to $50,000, depending on the gravity of the offence.
“The online world has become our world, for better or for worse,” Justice Minister David Lametti told a news conference Wednesday.
“It has become another public square. That public square should be a safe space.”
Bill C-36 would also add a definition of “hatred” under the Criminal Code to two propaganda offences and create a new peace bond which aims to “prevent hate propaganda offences and hate crimes,” according to briefing materials from the Department of Justice.
The peace bond would address hate propaganda and hate crimes, both on the internet and off, and be applied under the Youth Criminal Justice Act as well.
Furthermore, the bill would enact Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, and add a new definition of hate speech based on Supreme Court of Canada decisions: “content that expresses detestation or vilification of a person or group based on a prohibited ground of discrimination.”
Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, welcomed the reintroduction of Section 13, which was repealed under the Stephen Harper government. At the time, critics of Section 13 said that it opened the door to frivolous complaints which could infringe on the right to freedom of expression.
“It gives communities a tool to access a legal process to protect themselves,” Balgord said, but added that he believed it would require more resources for the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Complaints would be filed by individuals or groups against others online, those who operate websites, and other users of telecommunications including robocallers. The changes wouldn’t apply to private communications, hyperlinks, operators of social media platforms, online intermediaries who provide hosting or technical infrastructure or service providers, nor would it apply to some broadcasters already under other regulatory bodies.
The government says Bill C-36 is part of a broader planned package aimed at online harms. Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has previously suggested the government would move to set up a new regulator to fight illegal content on web platforms, which could enforce a 24-hour takedown requirement.
The technical paper announced Wednesday is expected to outline the government’s plans for dealing with social media platforms themselves.