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Virani open to change Online Harms bill, Tories say modernize current laws instead

OTTAWA — Canada’s justice minister says he’s open to amending the government’s long-awaited legislation aimed at protecting Canadians against online harms, while the Opposition Conservatives say the Liberals could instead move faster by modernizing existing laws.

Justice Minister Arif Virani delivered his first major defense of the Online Harms Act to the House of Commons today since he tabled the legislation back in February.

Since then, legal and privacy experts, as well as civil society advocates, have voiced concerns about its potential to chill free speech through proposing stiffer Criminal Code punishments for hate-related offences.

Virani says companies would have to submit safety plans to a new Digital Safety Commission to outline how they would reduce the risk of exposing users to seven different types of harmful content.

That commission would field complaints and be able to levy heft fines.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner says she’s requested the Parliamentary Budget Officer to analyze how much this new bureaucracy could cost and accused the government of creating an “onerous” process, rather than updating existing laws and regulations.

The bill seeks to compel social media companies to reduce users’ exposure to dangerous and harmful online content through the creation of a new regulatory body that would operate a part of a larger Digital Safety Office.

The bill also establishes a new way for Canadians to file human rights complaints about hate speech.

Rempel Garner called the bill “completely flawed” says it “should be abandoned.”

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

The Canadian Press

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