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Separate controversial Criminal Code changes from Online Harms Act, advocates urge

OTTAWA — More than 15 civil society groups are urging the justice minister to hive off proposed changes to the Criminal Code and Human Rights Act from a bill aimed at tackling online harms.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council were among the signatories to an open letter released today. 

They warn that keeping those provisions in the Online Harms Act could “overshadow” its main goal of holding social media giants accountable for protecting users from harmful online content.

The legislation proposes to create a new digital safety regulator and includes changes to the Criminal Code to usher in stiffer penalties for hate-related crimes. 

That has been met with heavy scrutiny, along with the government’s plan to reintroduce a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act to allow people to file complaints about hate speech online.

Critics warn that doing so could chill free speech, while Justice Department officials say only the most extreme examples of hate speech would be targeted. 

The letter asks Justice Minister Arif Virani to remove the justice and human rights section from the bill and create a separate piece of legislation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024. 

The Canadian Press

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