Twitter censorship


The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is expressing serious concerns over a Liberal proposal for a Digital Safety Commission.

The commission would be a regulatory complement for Bill C-36, according to a recently-released discussion paper. It calls for a Digital Safety Commissioner to police Online Communications Services (OCS) such as Facebook, TikTok, and Pornhub to eliminate hate speech, terrorist content, content that incites violence, intimate images shared without consent, and child sexual exploitation.

The Commissioner could levy large fines for platforms that don’t comply and send investigators to homes and businesses. The Commissioner would also mandate the social media companies to proactively report a wide range of information. Some information obtained could be shared with other government bodies, including CSIS.

In an interview with Western Standard, Canadian Civil Liberties Association general council Cara Zwibel said social media companies could over-censor to be on the safe side.

“We have a problem where we’re precluding people from expressing themselves in ways that are completely lawful,” Zwibel said.

“There isn’t an absence of law to deal with this stuff. And it may be that law enforcement needs updated tools. I don’t know if that’s the case. But this does something different. It shoots the responsibility over to the social media companies to deal with it.”

In 1990, Canada’s existing hate speech laws barely passed a court challenge in a 4-3 decision. Zwibel said if interpreted properly, a wide latitude of speech is permissible. 

“Many people would be surprised that you can say a lot of pretty terrible things and not violate the law. And, in many cases, those terrible things are the things that people were complaining about, that people want taken down. But they’re not illegal. So, if the law is applied properly, they shouldn’t be removed,” Zwibel said.

“A lot of terrorist propaganda is people who engage in these acts of violence explaining their motivation. And I think that’s something that many people will find to be in the public interest to hear and to know.”

Canadian elected officials haven’t always esteemed the importance of such speech. In 2019, Faisal Khan Suri, president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, told a Justice Committee hearing that Christchurch, New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant was influenced by hate speech coming from “alt-right online networks.”

In response, Conservative MP Michael Cooper read part of Tarrant’s manifesto where he said he was not a conservative. At the urging of Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, the words from the manifesto were struck from the Parliamentary record. Later, the Conservatives removed Cooper from the Justice Committee.

Under the Liberal proposal, a Digital Recourse Council consisting of three to five members would exist to hear appeals to the Commissioner’s rulings. However, the legislative proposal encourages the hiring of sexual, religious, and racial minorities, such as Boissonnault, who was the first openly gay MP elected in Alberta.

“[I]n appointing members, the Governor in Council shall take into consideration the importance of diverse subject-matter experts reflective of the Canadian population, particularly inclusive of women, Indigenous Peoples, members of racialized communities and religious minorities, of LGBTQ2 and gender-diverse communities, and persons with disabilities,” reads the proposal’s technical paper.

Whether the council leans against politically incorrect speech or not, Zwibel says a bureaucratic monster could be in the making.

“As far as creating this bureaucratic structure, I would imagine that it could become unwieldy very quickly. The amount of the volume of content that is out there, that people may complain about, even if those complaints if examined have no merit – it’s going to take some time to look into all of that. And so I can’t imagine this five-person board managing what could be a very large volume of complaints,” Zwibel said.

“It seems like the wrong tool for some of these things that are very serious. And…we’re talking about any content that is accessible in Canada, regardless of where it originated. So that’s potentially a lot of content.” 

Lisa Bildy of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said Bill C-36, for which this proposal is a complement, is terrible legislation.

“Frighteningly, it expands the notion of a ‘pre-crime’, wherein someone can obtain a peace bond against another person who they fear might commit a hate crime. This is veering into punishing people for thoughtcrimes, with associated restrictions on that person’s liberty for something they have not yet done,” Bildy told Western Standard.

“It seems likely that Bill C-36 will be used as a tool of political oppression against those who do not subscribe to the authoritarian progressive orthodoxy. Although Canadians are already well protected from hate speech and propaganda by sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code, this bill removes evidentiary limitations and expands the reach of existing hate law.”

Lee Harding is a Saskatchewan-based correspondent for Western Standard.

Senior Contributor (Saskatchewan)

Lee Harding is the Senior Saskatchewan Contributor for the Western Standard and Saskatchewan Standard based in the Regina Bureau. He has served as the Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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