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Canada: Proposals for Harmful Content Online Need More Human Rights Safeguards

 27 September 2021. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing a Submission to the official consultation on the Government of Canada’s proposals to address harmful content online. The proposals would impose several obligations on online platforms, including to monitor content proactively, report harmful content to law enforcement bodies and create procedures for users to flag content for review. The proposals would also create several new independent regulatory bodies tasked with enforcement of the abovementioned obligations and hearing appeals about content moderation.

The Canadian proposals to address harmful content online are a mixed bag in terms of compliance with international human rights,” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “The creation of independent oversight bodies is positive, but requiring platforms to monitor content is very problematical while other features need additional human rights safeguards.”

CLD’s Submission welcomes the positive aspects of the proposals, including the decoupling of online platforms’ content moderation decisions from liability, increased reporting obligations for platforms that would increase transparency, including on how harmful content is monetised, and the independence of the new regulatory bodies.

However, several aspects of the proposals are problematic from a human rights standpoint and should either be removed or adjusted, including:

    • Lack of clarity as to scope, which appears to cover some private communications.
    • A 24-hour deadline for companies to take measures against harmful content, which we recommend generally be extended to 72 hours.
    • An ill-defined obligation for companies to monitor and takedown harmful content proactively.
    • An obligation for companies to report content proactively to law enforcement bodies, which requires them to decide whether content is criminal.
    • A vague definition of “terrorist content” which we recommend be limited to “content that incites terrorist activities” and linked to clear Criminal Code definitions.
    • Failure to put in place sufficient safeguards for website blocking, an extreme practice, so as to ensure that blocking is proportionate and that innocent content is not blocked, and to include publicity requirements regarding blocked sites.

The Submission can be found here.

For further information, please contact:

J.Y. Hoh
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: jyhoh@law-democracy.org
+1 416 833 2918
twitter: @law_democracy

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