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Canada Unveils Sweeping Online Harms Act to Tackle Harmful Content and Digital Safety

In response to the escalating risk of harmful online content, the Canadian federal government has introduced the “Online Harms Act,” a comprehensive piece of legislation that outlines new requirements for digital platforms and establishes a dedicated oversight body for digital safety.

Key highlights of the Online Harms Act:

Categories of Harmful Content:

  • Content that sexually victimizes or re-victimizes a child.
  • Bullying content targeting children.
  • Content inducing self-harm in children.
  • Content inciting violent extremism or terrorism.
  • Content inciting violence.
  • Content fostering hatred.
  • Intimate content communicated without consent, including deepfakes.

User-Centric Approach:

  • Enables Canadians to request the removal of harmful content within 24 hours, subject to review.
  • Allows complaints against individuals spreading hateful speech at a human rights tribunal.
  • Focuses on platforms used most by Canadians.

Duties for Platforms:

  • Duty to Protect Children: Platforms must adopt age-appropriate design features, including parental controls, content warning labels, safe search settings, rules around targeted ads, and default settings for minors’ interactions.
  • Duty to Act Responsibly: Platforms required to assess, mitigate, and report risks, provide user tools to flag content, publish digital safety plans, and share data with researchers.
  • Duty to Make Content Inaccessible: Platforms must ensure the removal of harmful content within 24 hours, provide user flags, and establish a complaint process through a new Digital Safety Commission.

Digital Safety Commission:

  • A five-person commission to enforce regulations and hold online services accountable.
  • Empowered to order the removal of certain sexual content within 24 hours.

Digital Safety Ombudsperson:

  • An independent figure focusing on public education, consulting victims, and making recommendations to platforms and the government.

Penalties for Non-Compliance:

  • Platforms facing a maximum penalty of six percent of their global revenue or $10 million, whichever is greater, for failure to comply.

Enhancements to Criminal Code and Human Rights Act:

  • Introduction of a new standalone hate crime offence.
  • Maximum penalties increased for existing hate propaganda offences.
  • Definition of “hatred” added to the Criminal Code.
  • Creation of a process for assessing hate speech complaints through the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Mandatory Reporting Amendments:

  • Changes to rules around reporting internet child pornography to better equip law enforcement.

The proposed legislation follows extensive consultations and aims to strike a balance between protecting users, especially children, and respecting freedom of expression. The bill will undergo parliamentary scrutiny and potential revisions before becoming law, with political parties expressing varying stances on its implications.

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