It’s no secret that online censorship and the threat it poses to free discourse is a growing problem in the Western world. As tech companies continue to be virtually unregulated and their power to deplatform those who express heterodox views remains unchallenged, the need for legislative action to protect free speech is of the utmost importance.
Unfortunately for Canadians, instead of eliminating tech companies’ ability to censor, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is simply looking to shift those powers over to government agencies, as evidenced by the new “online harms” proposal.
This proposal, for which the government intends to introduce a bill in the fall, aims to regulate a new category of sites known as “online communication services,” which would include social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.
The proposal would also establish a number of new government regulators, including a Digital Safety Commissioner and a Digital Recourse Council of Canada, whose primary purposes would be to target and moderate online content that fits into any one of the following five categories: child sexual exploitation content, terrorist content, content that incites violence, intimate images shared non-consensually, and hate speech.
In large part, the goals of this proposal are not particularly controversial. No reasonable person would object to the removal of content such as child pornography or content that encourages violence or extremism, which has absolutely no place online, especially considering such images are already illegal to share. The problem with the proposal is that it gives government regulators unchecked power to define, and subsequently demand the removal of, online content that they may arbitrarily characterize as “hate speech.”
Some instances of hate speech are blatant and obvious, like racial epithets and slurs. But could questioning the legitimacy of certain racial equity practices or outlandish aspects of transgender ideology be lumped into this category simply because Trudeau’s online police deem it so?
If the proposal becomes legislation and is passed, it would give these regulatory bodies—which are unelected and accountable to no one—the ability to constantly shift the Overton window, frequently redefining what can and what cannot be considered “hate speech.” In other words, this proposal has the potential to significantly hinder online discourse for Canadians and ultimately suppress their freedom of expression on the internet.
This isn’t the first time the Trudeau government has tabled such censorious policies. It initially demonstrated its intentions of devising a much more restrictive Canadian internet with its controversial Bill C-10, which has been passed in the House of Commons and is currently awaiting Senate review.
C-10 seeks to expand the powers of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to regulate tech companies like Netflix, YouTube, and other “broadcasters” purportedly to encourage the promotion of Canadian content. It also has the potential, however, to treat average Canadian social media users in a similar fashion, effectively giving the CRTC, another unelected regulatory body, the ability to moderate, vet, and remove online content uploaded by regular Canadians.
Despite the possible infringements on Canadians’ freedom of expression that could result from Bill C-10, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the bill “is a first step” in regulating the internet—and it is quite evident that the Liberals’ online harms proposal is their next step toward online censorship. Similar to Bill C-10, the proposal would transfer a significant amount of control over online debate by average Canadians to government regulators like the CRTC or the newly designed Digital Safety Commissioner, subsequently putting gross limitations on Canadians’ freedom of expression on the internet.
As social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook continue to serve as revolutionary communicative tools, regulation is becoming more and more necessary to safeguard free speech so that Canadians don’t need to worry about being censored for expressing their thoughts and ideas to others in the online public square. But with this latest proposal, it’s clear that Justin Trudeau is doing the opposite of defending free expression. Instead of combatting censorship, he is only looking to weaponize it for his own political means.
Under the guise of “online safety,” Trudeau’s approach will do away with one of the internet’s most integral components: the way in which it has democratized not only the ability to access information but also the ability to create and disseminate content with the world. In its place will be a much more censorious regime, riddled with rampant government oversight and increasingly restrictive regulations, devoid of any ideological heterogeneity.
Consequently, if the freedom of expression—one of the most fundamental aspects of contemporary Canadian society—is to be upheld, it is unquestionable that this kind of online authoritarianism must be stopped before it even begins.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.