Canada Free Expression Government Censorship

Civil society and experts demand transparency from harmful content consultation

Government cannot move Internet legislation forward without basic accountability

October 27, 2021 — 16 civil society groups and experts have issued a joint letter calling on the federal government to publicly release all submissions the Department of Canadian Heritage received during its recent consultation on regulating harmful content online. 

The consultation’s white paper proposes stiff new obligations for how online platforms handle any user posts that could constitute any of five types of illegal content. If implemented, platforms would be required to proactively identify potentially violating posts, remove them within 24 hours, and report them directly to law enforcement. These proposals have been widely criticized as overly aggressive and likely to lead to the removal of much legal speech beyond the targeted content.

“Canadians demand accountability. A public consultation with no transparency is simply not acceptable,” said OpenMedia Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. “Our government launched a consultation for people in Canada to tell them what we thought of their proposals for our Internet, and the public did its part. But how can we know they’ve listened if they won’t even tell us what they’ve heard?”

Hatfield continued, “Through this opaque, rushed, and closed process, the government is imposing an absurd double standard; wanting to enforce transparency and accountability onto others, but completely refusing it themselves. As written this proposal is incredibly dangerous, and faces widespread opposition from experts in Canada and abroad. If Minister Rodriguez hopes to have any chance of making real progress tackling harmful content online, he’s going to need to start by cleaning up this process, and coming back to the table with a clear plan for transparency, and rebuilding public trust. And we need that accountability reset now, well before Parliament returns and any new legislation is proposed.”

The transparency requested by the letter is increasingly standard for government consultations in Canada. Recent examples include the Justice Department’s What We Heard report after seeking public input on its plans for Privacy Act reform, and the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel, which included all submissions to it as an annex. 

Over 9,000 members of the public provided individual comments to the harmful content consultation through OpenMedia before the consultation closed on September 25th. The joint letter signed by 16 organizations and individuals can be viewed here.

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