Within hours of Elections Canada confirming the results of the 44th general federal election, the Government of Canada revealed that, of more than 100 platform promises, ten will receive special attention. Among them are three new laws that would require “web giants” to examine and analyze all web content and ensure Canadians cannot see hurtful online content deemed to “undermine Canada’s social cohesion or democracy,” and content that “might” undermine the credibility of the government, federal institutions, or the public service (i.e., employees of the federal government).
First introduced in the dying days of the last Parliamentary session, the vague language in the proposed laws casts a very wide net that includes the remarks made by political rivals, constituents, domestic and foreign journalists, academics and anyone else who might question, contradict, criticize or poke fun at government decisions, actions, or employees.
Various aspects of the proposed legislation have been criticized by many credible, knowledgeable and thoughtful experts including former Information and Privacy Commissioner Dr Ann Cavoukian, a former commissioner of the CRTC, the regulatory body that oversees compliance with the Broadcasting Act (“a full-blown assault on freedom of expression and the foundations of democracy”), Senator Pamela Wallin (“full-on assault on free speech in a democracy”), and law professors Michael Geist and Emily Laidlaw. Civil libertarians have described it as a “censorship bill so sweeping it would ban satire or jokes, impact news gathering and blacklist free speech on social and political issues.”
Although the proposals died with the dissolution of Parliament to make way for the 2021 federal election, work continued to pave the way for a new regulatory framework “that would create rules for how social media platforms and other online services must address harmful content”.
In anticipation of that new regime, the Department of Heritage invited “stakeholders and Canadians” to start submitting comments on July 29, 2021, about its “proposed approach to make social media platforms and other online communications services more accountable and more transparent when it comes to combating harmful content online.”
The very same consultation states what the “The framework sets out” — in the present tense — indicating that the consultation might be an exercise in futility for stakeholders and Canadians alike.
Given that the new government has assured the trio of internet regulations will be a reality within the first 100 days of a new cabinet being sworn in, “stakeholders and Canadians” have a brief window within which to contact Senators, Parliamentarians, and their elected representatives to express their views.