Canada’s Online Harms Act targets harmful content and internet giants

Canada introduced the Online Harms Act to control and remove harmful content. The law holds companies responsible for reducing exposure to damaging material, including bullying, extremism, and violence.

Canada flag is depicted on the screen with the program code

Canada has introduced the Online Harms Act, a new online safety law, following in the footsteps of European countries, aiming to compel internet companies to actively regulate and remove harmful content. The legislation places responsibility on platforms to reduce exposure to damaging content, including material involving bullying, sexual victimisation of children, and content that incites extremism, violence, or hatred. The law applies to companies providing social media platforms, live-streamed video, and user-uploaded adult content, meeting a certain user threshold, with major firms like Google’s YouTube and Meta Platforms Inc. expected to be impacted. The Digital Safety Commission, a regulatory body, will enforce rules, handle complaints, and mandate content removal, while an independent digital safety ombudsperson will support and advocate for users.

Canada‘s Online Harms Act, introduced later than in jurisdictions like the United Kingdom, European Union, and Australia, addresses the delayed implementation of online safety legislation. The bill also proposes a new standalone hate crime offence applicable to various offences in the Criminal Code, with penalties of up to life in prison. It establishes a process for filing complaints about online speech with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which can order content removal and compensate victims up to $20,000. This legislation adds to the contentious internet regulations Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced in recent years.

Why does it matter?

Critics have expressed concerns about the delicate balance between protecting internet users and preserving rights and freedoms. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, Trudeau’s main rival, has criticised the bill as an ‘attack on freedom of expression.’

Additionally, the previous year, Canada passed two significant laws targeting online platforms: the Online Streaming Act, which compels platforms like Netflix and Amazon to fund local media and feature Canadian content, and the Online News Act, which requires Alphabet Inc. to pay for news content. In response to the latter, Meta has suspended all links to news content on Facebook and Instagram in Canada to avoid making payments, affecting news outlets and raising concerns about access to local news in rural areas.