April 24th, 2024

MP Report: Serious concerns with Liberal’s Online Harms Act – Bill C-63

By Glen Motz on March 27, 2024.

“The Liberal government’s proposed Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act, is a terrible law that will unduly impose restrictions on Canadians’ sacred Charter right to freedom of expression. That is what the Liberals intend. By drafting a vague law creating a draconian regime to address online ‘harms’, they will win their wars without firing a bullet.” This is the opinion shared by David Thomas, who served as chairperson of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal from 2014 to 2021, and who is very much opposed to this legislation.

We can all agree that crimes involving the online sexual victimization of children, bullying a child, publishing intimate images without consent, inducing a child to harm themselves, inciting violence, etc., must be enforced. However, the good intentions contained in Bill C-63 do not justify passing more laws that duplicate what is presently prohibited in the Criminal Code, nor the setting up of more bureaucracy tasked with enforcing what is already illegal.

Conservatives believe that these serious acts should remain criminal, investigated by police, tried in the courts and punished with jail, not pushed off to a new government bureaucracy that will do nothing to prevent crimes and provide no justice to victims.

What is especially troubling with Bill C-63 is the confusion and concerns created by the government’s attempt to identify what constitutes online hate, hate speech and violent extremism.

Many experts believe that proposed amendments to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Humans Rights Act cloud the legislation and challenge Canadians’ basic right to freedom of expression and debate. They warn that interpretation or perception of the law will dominate complaint decisions leading to censorship.

It is likely that Bill C-63 will have a chilling effect on free speech online due to the subjective nature of defining what constitutes ‘hate speech’ in any given context and a lack of guardrails to protect freedom of expression. Individuals may simply ‘self-censor’, or just say nothing, to avoid the threat of facing hefty fines.

A Human Rights Tribunal is to be established to conduct inquiries concerning complaints from anyone who believes they are targets of ‘online hate’. This added bureaucracy will be empowered to order content it deems hateful to be removed and may fine a defendant up to $50,000, plus award damages of up to $20,000 to the complainant, with no defined appeal process. Promoting online hate is already illegal with penalties outlined in the Criminal Code.

I encourage interested readers to review Bill C-63 for themselves, as this column does not provide enough space to tackle all the Bills’ complexities. For those who may have concerns with Bill C-63, I would urge you to share your thoughts, by email, directly to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General Arif Virani at arif.virani@parl.gc.ca.

It is important to remember that we are a free society, and with that comes the notion that we sometimes must tolerate things we do not agree with. Each of us will make that decision for ourselves. We do not need, nor should we ever want, government to do that for us.

The serious risk of silencing free speech is not something I will ever support.

Glen Motz is the MP for Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner

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