Canada Free Expression Government Censorship

Critics of controversial Harmful Content proposal heard

Details of how government will improve their proposal unclear

February 3, 2021 — After an unusual delay period today the government released a “What We Heard” report on their proposed approach to addressing harmful content online. First introduced last spring, the government's harmful content consultation and accompanying technical paper were aimed at creating new laws around five types of illegal content on online platforms in Canada. As today’s report acknowledges, the overwhelming majority of feedback to the consultation was critical of both the technical paper’s proposals, and the rushed and narrow consultation process itself. The key question is now how the government will be improving the process of seeking feedback and addressing these issues moving forward.

“Today’s report confirms what we’ve said all along: the government’s proposed approach was disastrous and would have led to unprecedented online censorship and surveillance in Canada,” said OpenMedia Campaigns Director Matt Hatfield. “We’ve called for the release of this report since the consultation closed last September, and while we wish it had been released sooner, we appreciate its thorough acknowledgement of the many places the government’s harmful content proposal went awry.”

“So how are they going to fix it? Acknowledging serious problems isn’t the same as adequately addressing them,” continued Hatfield. “They’re promising experts will be convened within weeks to fast track fixing their proposal while getting it right. But it will take a lot of time to work out fixes to everything that was wrong in last year’s proposal. Any proposal that impacts our online freedom of expression and privacy is incredibly sensitive, and getting it right via thorough and sustained consultation is far more important than moving it down the government’s fast track.”

Today’s report comes after months of delays and sustained pressure from the OpenMedia community, academics, and other experts

Key concerns with the 2021 proposal include:

  • 24 takedown windows that encourage platforms to remove much lawful content without due process;
  • Direct reporting requirements of removed content to law enforcement, including CSIS and the RCMP;
  • Inappropriate grouping together of very different types of illegal harmful content with the same regulatory response;
  • Mandated use of automated content detection algorithms likely to over-remove content and biased against marginalized community expression;
  • No attention to the data surveillance algorithms and business models that encourage the propagation of much harmful content;
  • Inadequacy of the proposed Digital Recourse Council to expeditiously handle complaints;
  • Blocking of websites and platforms, a disproportionate and ineffective approach.

Over 8,000 OpenMedia community members provided input to the harmful content consultation, alongside a detailed OpenMedia submission raising concerns with the proposal and suggesting more appropriate areas for platform legislation. In 2022 over 5,000 OpenMedia community members have emailed new Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to demand a thorough reworking of the harmful content proposal.

About OpenMedia

OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet.

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OpenMedia works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. We create community-driven campaigns to engage, educate, and empower people to safeguard the Internet.

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