13 civil society groups share core guiding principles for Canada’s upcoming online safety proposal
Best practices and red lines outlined to protect rights of Canadians
March 15, 2023 — Today, 13 civil society organizations released a joint statement addressed to the Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez, outlining shared concerns and hopes for Canada’s upcoming online safety proposal. The letter urges the government to move cautiously when introducing legislation around illegal online content in Canada, and presents seven dangerous possibilities Canada’s legislation must avoid, as well as five positive recommendations for advancing Canadians’ privacy and freedom of expression.
The signing organizations are deeply concerned that some approaches the government may consider would be inconsistent with freedom of expression and privacy; many had previously criticized the government’s 2021 white paper on harmful content, and do not want to see a return to its widely criticized approach. Key dangerous directions the letter warns the government against include:
- Proactively monitoring online content;
- Breaking private encrypted communication;
- Requiring mandatory takedown windows for most illegal content;
- Blocking websites without judicial review;
- Implementing new definitions of targeted harmful content, beyond those already defined by Canadian law.
The signatories also proposed a series of positive recommendations for online safety that would advance internet users' civil liberties, including mandatory transparency of data and algorithm use by platforms to their Canadian users, requiring user tools for self-managing their online safety and tailoring wider platform accountability measures to their overall pattern of behaviour and reasonable risk assessment.
They strongly urge Minister Rodriguez to carefully consider the vast range of feedback he has received in generating legislation and use the presented principles to shape his legislation moving forward.
James L. Turk, Director, Center for Free Expression, Toronto Metropolitan University: “Social media have made possible unprecedented opportunities for a stronger and more equitable democracy while also providing the tools for undermining that same democracy. Ultimately, the only means to reduce the harm and while protecting the good are measures that mandate platform transparency, empower users, and base content moderation requirements on international human rights laws.”
Matt Hatfield, Campaigns Director, OpenMedia: “Online safety legislation could advance Canadians’ rights online– or lead to an unprecedented violation of our privacy and freedom of expression. The government’s 2021 proposal was woefully off-track, risking Canada becoming one of the most surveilled and censored democratic countries in the world. Today we’re proud to present these guiding principles to Minister Rodriguez for his consideration as he works on his revised proposal, and express our hope that getting the final bill right via continued thorough and sustained consultation will be far more important to him than moving it heedlessly down the government’s fast track.”
Fareed Khan, Founder, Canadians United Against Hate: "Social media companies have wielded their power to shape society irresponsibly by allowing the voices of hate to use their platforms as megaphones, resulting in tragic consequences. Our organization supports some degree of government oversight over them as long as it abides by freedoms guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ensures that the executives of these companies are held legally accountable for any harms that result from damaging content on their platforms.
Arab Canadian Lawyers Association
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
Canadian Association of University Teachers
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic
Canadians United Against Hate
Centre for Free Expression
Ligue des droits et libertés
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
Independent Jewish Voices Canada
Internet Society Canada Chapter
National Council of Canadian Muslims