A federal report issued by Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s department says that a large number of Canadians have expressed a desire for Ottawa to implement “stronger legislation” to regulate internet content and combat “online harm.”
The report, titled “What We Heard: 2022 Roundtables on Online Safety,” summarized 19 in-person and virtual roundtable discussions held in cities across Canada conducted by Heritage Canada between July and November 2022, as first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter.
The findings were based on feedback from the groups invited by the government, including “participants from groups representing victims, religious and equity deserving communities, women, 2SLGBTQI+, youth, and Indigenous peoples” to attend the roundtables.
The discussions focused on “key elements of a legislative and regulatory framework on online safety,” with six of them being “thematic roundtables” that specifically focused on topics like “Antisemitism, Islamophobia, Anti-Black Racism, Anti-Asian Racism, Gender-Based Violence, and Big Tech.”
“Participants were concerned over how quickly disinformation can be created and shared to a wide range of people,” read a summary of one of the sessions held in Moncton, N.B., on July 8, 2022.
“Many participants expressed desire for stronger legislation, regulations, and systems to be introduced to combat online harm,” adding that “participants acknowledged the importance of future online safety legislation striking a balance between protecting freedom of speech and protecting Canadians from online hate.”
Guests invited to attend the Heritage Department’s discussions included OpenMedia; the Prince Edward Island-based Black, Indigenous, People of Colour United for Strength, Home Relationship; the PEI Transgender Network; the Canadian Muslim Forum, and the Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association, among others.
The department said that participants at one of the roundtables held in Montreal on July 21, 2022, “expressed a desire for online safety legislation to require greater transparency from social media platforms on their content moderation process.”
Heritage Canada previously consulted with the broader Canadian public on its proposed online harms legislation where around 90 percent of responses voiced opposition to the proposed new measures outlined in the consultation notice.
The report relating to the online consultations conducted by the Liberal government between July and September 2021 was obtained by Canadian lawyer and academic Michael Geist through an access to information request and acknowledged that “only a small number of submissions” were supportive of the proposed legislation.
“Concerns most cited are those around censorship/freedom of expression,” it said.
During another discussion in Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 2, the department said participants discussed the “distinction between misinformation and disinformation” and “questioned if legislation can capture both issues.”
“A few participants discussed whether online safety legislation should include misinformation and disinformation due to the challenges of tackling both,” it said.
“Some participants expressed unease at the notion that the government should be the entity deciding what material constitutes misinformation and disinformation.”
The federal government is currently drafting legislation aimed at targeting online hate speech and misinformation and Rodriguez recently said it will be introduced by this fall at the latest.
The Liberals previously introduced similar legislation in 2021, but it lapsed when a snap election was called during the same year.
Cabinet said in March that the new legislation may propose the creation of a “Digital Safety Commission” that would be tasked with enforcing social media platforms to specifically target “harmful content” online.