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Online "hate speech" to become punishable by $20,000 fine

The Liberal government announced last week that online hate speech a crime punishable by as much as $20,000 for the first offense and $50,000 for the second. Social media companies that host such content will be exempt from fines.

The news came after a 20-year-old man killed a Muslim family of five in Ontario in a car attack. Canadian police have attributed the attack to Islamophobia.

Canada’s Attorney General David Lametti assured Canadians that the proposed law would not target “simple expressions of dislike or disdain” during a virtual press conference on Wednesday. Instead, Lametti said, the law is only designed to punish the most extreme forms of hatred that “expresses detestation or vilification of a person or group on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

“Hate speech directly contradicts the values underlying freedom of expression and our Charter of Rights,” Lametti said. “It threatens the safety and well-being of its targets. It silences and intimidates, especially when the target is a vulnerable person or community. When hate speech spreads, its victims lose their freedom to participate in civil society online.”

The proposed legislation, known as Bill C-36, will take the following steps:

  • amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to define a new discriminatory practice of communicating hate speech online, and to provide individuals with additional remedies to address hate speech;

  • add a definition of “hatred” to section 319 of the Criminal Code based on Supreme Court of Canada decisions; and

  • create a new peace bond in the Criminal Code designed to prevent hate propaganda offences and hate crimes from being committed, and make related amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

“Online platforms are central to participation in public life and have enormous power over online speech and Canadians’ everyday lives. While they allow us as Canadians to stay in touch with loved ones, learn and debate, they can also be used to discriminate, harm and silence,” Steven Guilbeault, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, said in a statement.

“In consultation with Canadians, the Government of Canada is committed to taking action to put in place a robust, fair and consistent legislative and regulatory framework on the most egregious and reprehensible types of harmful content,” Guilbeault added . “This is why we will engage Canadians in the coming weeks to ask for feedback on specific, concrete proposals that will form the basis of legislation."

“The Government of Canada is taking action to address harmful content online and make the internet safer. We look forward to hearing from Canadians and to continue working with allies and social media platforms to prevent the internet from being used as a tool to incite and promote terrorism, violence, and hatred," added Minister Bill Blair.

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