Civics: Canadian government’s proposed online harms legislation threatens our human rights

Ilan Kogan:

Oddly, the proposed legislation reads like a list of the most widely condemned policy ideas globally. Elsewhere, these ideas have been vigorously protested by human rights organizations and struck down as unconstitutional. No doubt, the federal government’s proposed legislation presents a serious threat to human rights in Canada.

The government’s intentions are noble. The purpose of the legislation is to reduce five types of harmful content online: child sexual exploitation content, terrorist content, content that incites violence, hate speech, and non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

Even though this content is already largely illegal, further reducing its proliferation is a worthy goal. Governments around the world, and particularly in Europe, have introduced legislation to combat these harms. The problem is not the government’s intention. The problem is the government’s solution.

Serious privacy issues

The legislation is simple. First, online platforms would be required to proactively monitor all user speech and evaluate its potential for harm. Online communication service providers would need to take “all reasonable measures,” including the use of automated systems, to identify harmful content and restrict its visibility.

Second, any individual would be able to flag content as harmful. The social media platform would then have 24 hours from initial flagging to evaluate whether the content was in fact harmful. Failure to remove harmful content within this period would trigger a stiff penalty: up to three per cent of the service provider’s gross global revenue or $10 million, whichever is higher. For Facebook, that would be a penalty of $2.6 billion per post.