Tories Will Oppose Imminent Online Harms Bill, Says Poilievre

Tories Will Oppose Imminent Online Harms Bill, Says Poilievre
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre makes an announcement in Pointe-Claire, Que., on Feb. 15, 2024. (Noé Chartier/The Epoch Times)
Noé Chartier

Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre says his party will oppose a soon-to-be tabled government bill seeking to address “online harms,” claiming it will lead to the criminalization of any speech the prime minister dislikes.

“Yes. We will oppose Justin Trudeau’s latest attack on freedom of expression,” Mr. Poilievre said in answering questions from reporters.

“What does Justin Trudeau mean when he says the word ‘hate speech?’ He means speech he hates,” added the Tory leader during a Feb. 21 press conference in Kitchener, Ont.

Mr. Poilievre mentioned the prime minister’s criticism of Muslim parents opposed to the teaching of gender ideology in schools. Protests were held last summer about the issue and Mr. Trudeau reacted by saying “we strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations.”

The Conservatives have been vocal in their opposition to previous major pieces of legislation meant to shape the information environment, namely Bill C-11 and Bill C-18. Tories have called Bill C-11, which revamped the Broadcasting Act, a “censorship law.”

While C-11 does give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission additional powers to regulate online content, the online harms legislation will likely take government supervision further.

An unnamed senior official told The Canadian Press on Feb. 21 the new legislation is “nearly ready to go” and would be tabled in April.

The plan reportedly includes establishing an ombudsperson to take complaints from internet users and a regulator to make sure online platforms abide by the new Canadian law.

Mr. Trudeau commented on the bill later on Feb. 21, saying Mr. Poilievre has not seen it and is, therefore, not well-placed to criticize it.

The prime minister said the bill is “very, very specifically focused on protecting kids and not on censoring the internet as misinformation.”

Justice Minister Arif Virani, who is behind the new bill, also said in December it’s not an attempt to curtail speech.
“Where I don’t want this bill to go is down some sort of path where it looks like people are trying to tell you what to think, or how to criticize people,” he said.

‘Misinformation and Disinformation’

The previous attempt of the Liberal government to curtail online harms, Bill C-36, fell through in 2021 when Parliament was dissolved for the launch of the election.

For the crafting of the new legislation, the government hired a panel of experts who held rounds of discussions on different themes, such as “misinformation and disinformation” and private messaging.

A previous analysis by The Epoch Times found the chosen experts largely share the government’s ideology on different issues such as previous support for COVID-19 measures, advocating for more vaccine mandates, labelling alternative viewpoints “conspiracies,” and criticizing winter 2022’s freedom-themed protests.

Discussions captured by Heritage Canada and published online suggest “many experts” advocated for the new censorship law to cover private messaging. “Excluding these types of communications would leave a lot of harmful content on the table,” they reportedly said, in reference to terrorist content or child pornography.

While addressing online harms to children is said to be a key aim of the legislation, only one of the 12 experts hired by the government was specialized in that field.

Meanwhile, a current bill debated in the House of Commons to make it mandatory for porn websites to verify the age of users is moving forward without Liberal support. Liberals say Bill S-210 doesn’t do enough to protect children and that their online harms legislation will be focused on that.

Another key initial motivation for the Liberal government to pass online harm legislation was the desire to stamp out what it calls “disinformation and misinformation.”

“The internet has allowed for more mis- and disinformation, more polarization than ever before, and we’re much more likely to be exposed to and hurt by unacceptable hateful content,” then-Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in March 2022 when announcing his expert panel.

A few months later, the experts reportedly said in discussions that “disinformation” is “one of the most pressing and harmful forms of malicious behaviour online.” Nevertheless, they warned that it’s a complicated phenomena to define and that government should not be the arbiter of truth.

The experts discussed the failed attempt of the Biden Administration to establish its Disinformation Governance Board in the spring of 2022. “Government-created definitions of disinformation cannot withstand public scrutiny,” they said.

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.