Online Harms Bill: Civil liberties groups in Canada call it ‘draconian’ | World News - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Online Harms Bill: Civil liberties groups in Canada call it ‘draconian’

Mar 13, 2024 12:59 PM IST

The bill was introduced before the House of Commons late last month but has gained national attention after celebrated author Margaret Atwood described it as “Orwellian”

Toronto: Civil liberties groups, Booker Prize-winning Canadian author Margaret Atwood and Tesla founder Elon Musk are among those who have come out against the “draconian” so-called Online Harms Bill introduced by the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets workers as he tours new construction at Edgemont Flats housing complex during an announcement of new funding for housing in Edmonton, Alberta. (REUTERS)
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets workers as he tours new construction at Edgemont Flats housing complex during an announcement of new funding for housing in Edmonton, Alberta. (REUTERS)

The bill was introduced before the House of Commons late last month but has gained national attention after celebrated author Margaret Atwood described it as “Orwellian” in a post on X recently. “The possibilities for revenge false accusations + thoughtcrime stuff are sooo inviting! Trudeau’s Orwellian online harms bill,” the two-time Booker Prize winner posted. She was referring to British author George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four where the autocratic regime considers any idea outside its ideology as a thoughtcrime.

HT launches Crick-it, a one stop destination to catch Cricket, anytime, anywhere. Explore now!

That view appeared to be shared by Tesla founder and executive chair of X Elon Musk, who posted, in response to an article on the bill, “This is insane.”

Canada’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Arif Virani, an Indo-Canadian, who is shepherding the bill through parliament, attempted to defend it on Tuesday. During an event in Toronto, he said in French, “It includes expressions of detestation and vilification. It does not include insults, offensive comments, or jokes that are not very polite,” according to the outlet CBC News.

The government’s position has not impressed groups like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) which has described some of the bill’s provisions as “draconian”. In a release after the bill was tabled, CCLA’s executive director and general counsel Noa Mendelsohn Aviv said its “initial assessment reveals that the bill includes overbroad violations of expressive freedom, privacy, protest rights, and liberty”.

“The broad criminal prohibitions on speech in the bill risk stifling public discourse and criminalising political activism,” he noted, adding, “The bill imposes draconian penalties for certain types of expression, including life imprisonment for a very broad and vaguely defined offence of ‘incitement to genocide’, and five years of jail time for other broadly defined speech acts. This not only chills free speech but also undermines the principles of proportionality and fairness in our legal system.”

The Canadian Constitution Foundation stated that the bill will “significantly hamper constitutionally-protected expression”.

In a post on its website, it added, “The mere threat of human rights complaints and fines for Canadians and social media companies will chill large amounts of otherwise protected speech.”

The government has argued that the proposed legislation will “create stronger protections for kids online and better safeguard everyone in Canada from online hate” and “sets out a new vision for safer and more inclusive participation online.”

Discover the complete story of India's general elections on our exclusive Elections Product! Access all the content absolutely free on the HT App. Download now!

Get Latest World News, along with Latest News from India at Hindustan Times.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    author-default-90x90

    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Saturday, April 20, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On