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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to indigenous drummers as Pope Francis is welcomed to Canada, on July 24, 2022, in Edmonton, CanadaCole Burston/Getty Images

Send a message to your MP and Senators urging them to stop Trudeau’s ‘Online Harms Act’

(LifeSiteNews) –– One of Canada’s foremost constitutional rights groups, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, has warned that the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s proposed “Online Harms Act”  is a serious threat to freedom of “expression” and could lead to “preemptive punishment for crimes not committed.” 

“The Online Harms Act will harm freedom of expression in Canada if it is passed into law. Many Canadians will self-censor to avoid being prosecuted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission,” said the JCCF in a press release on Thursday.  

READ: Online Harms bill could see Canadians face house arrest based on citizen complaints: Constitutional lawyer

“Canadians who do not self-censor, by practicing courage and by continuing to exercise their Charter-protected freedom of expression, will still see their online expression removed from the internet by the operators of social media websites and platforms. These operators will seek to avoid running afoul of Mr. Trudeau’s new regulations. Everyone will live in fear of the Digital Safety Commission.” 

Bill C-63, or the Online Harms Act, was introduced by Justice Minister Arif Virani in the House of Commons Monday and passed its first reading.   

The bill calls for the creation of a Digital Safety Commission, a digital safety ombudsperson, and the Digital Safety Office.  

Earlier in the week, Marty Moore, who serves as the litigation director for the JCCF-funded Charter Advocates Canada, told LifeSiteNews that Bill C-63 will allow a new digital safety commission to conduct “secret commission hearings” against those found to have violated the new law, raising “serious concerns for the freedom of expression” of Canadians online. 

“The use of the term ‘safety’ is misleading, when the government through Bill C-63 is clearly seeking to censor expression simply based on its content, and not on its actual effect,” he told LifeSiteNews. 

The ombudsperson and other offices will be charged with dealing with public complaints regarding online content as well as put forth a regulatory function in a five-person panel “appointed by the government.” This panel will monitor internet platform behaviors to hold people “accountable.” 

Bill C-63 will modify existing laws, amending the Criminal Code as well as the Canadian Human Rights Act, in what the Liberals under Trudeau claim will target certain cases of internet content removal, notably those involving child sexual abuse and pornography.  

Details of the new legislation to regulate the internet show the bill could lead to more people jailed for life for “hate crimes” or fined $50,000 and jailed for posts that the government defines as “hate speech” based on gender, race, or other categories. 

Seven main issues with new bill, JCCF explains

The JCCF said that its team of legal experts has determined that Bill C-63 would do the following should it become law, notably by adding “section 810.012 to the Criminal Code” which will “permit preemptive violations of personal liberty when no crime has been committed,” which “repudiates centuries of legal tradition that rightly reserved punishment for what a person had done, not for what a person might do.” 

  • The Act unnecessarily duplicates existing legislation.
  • The Act would create a new Digital Safety Commission with overbroad powers to regulate nearly any person or entity operating a “social media service” in Canada.
  • The Act would empower judges to preemptively punish Canadians for speech crimes somebody “fears” they may commit.
  • The Act would raise the maximum penalty for advocating for genocide from five years in jail to life imprisonment.
  • The Act would empower the federal cabinet to censor speech by creating new regulations, without input from Parliament.
  • The Act would empower the Canadian Human Rights Commission to prosecute and punish offensive but non-criminal speech.
  • The Act would allow Canadians to file anonymous complaints against the speech of their fellow Canadians.

According to the JCCF, the Online Harms Act, by allowing “preemptive violations of personal liberty,” in effect makes it so that a complainant can assert to a provincial court that they “fear” someone “will promote genocide, hate or antisemitism.” 

As the JCCF explained, “If the judge believes that there are ‘reasonable grounds’ to justify the fear, the court can violate the liberty interests of the accused citizen by requiring her or him to do any or all of the following: 

  • wear an ankle bracelet (electronic monitoring device)
  • obey a curfew and stay at home, as determined by the judge
  • abstain from alcohol, drugs, or both
  • provide bodily substances (e.g. blood, urine) to confirm abstinence from drugs or alcohol
  • not communicate with certain designated persons
  • not go to certain places, as determined by the judge
  • surrender her or his legally owned and legally required firearms.”

The JCCF said that the “good intentions” of some parts of Bill C-63 should be “applauded,” noting that it is a “laudable goal to force online platforms to remove “revenge porn” and other non-consensual sharing of intimate images, content that bullies children, content that sexually victimizes children, content that encourages children to harm themselves, and content that incites violence, terrorism or hatred.” 

However, according to the JCCF, the Online Harms Act unnecessarily duplicates laws already in the Criminal Code that deal with child pornography and “incitement of hatred towards a group,” explaining that “good intentions do not justify passing additional laws that duplicate what is already prohibited by Canada’s Criminal Code.”

“Additional laws that duplicate existing laws are a poor substitute for good law enforcement,” stated the JCCF.  

JCCF launches petition calling on Trudeau to ‘stop’ its Online Harms Act  

The Online Harms Act will also amend Canada’s Human Rights Act to put back in place a hate speech provision, specifically, Section 13 of the Act, that the previous Conservative government under Stephen Harper had repealed in 2013 after it was found to have violated one’s freedom of expression.  

To pushback against the Online Harms Act, the JCCF has created a petition that calls upon “Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Arif Virani, and all Parliamentarians, to stop the Online Harms Act.”

The petition, which can be signed here, notes that “No Canadian should face life imprisonment for their expression.”