Canada unveils plans to make online hate speech a crime

Attendees return signs after a rally to highlight Islamophobia in Toronto, Ontario, on June 18, 2021.
Attendees return signs after a rally to highlight Islamophobia in Toronto, Ontario, on June 18, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (REUTERS) - Canada's Liberal government on Wednesday (June 23) unveiled plans to make online hate speech a crime, although the proposed legislation excludes social media platforms for now.

The proposed amendments to Canada's criminal codes and human rights act, which have been in the works for many months, come just weeks after an attack that killed four members of a Muslim family.

A 20-year-old man faces murder and terrorism charges after he rammed the family with his truck in the south-western Ontario town of London on June 6, a crime that police said was inspired by hate.

"The actions we are taking today will help protect the vulnerable, empower those who are victimised and hold individuals to account for the hatred they spread online," Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement.

The proposed amendments would make it easier for people to launch complaints against individuals who publish on the Internet - including on social media, on personal websites, and in blog posts - as well as operators of websites.

A person could be fined up to C$20,000 (S$21,880) if found guilty of hate speech that personally identified a victim.

However, the operators of social media platforms are excluded for now. Ottawa said it would soon ask the public for input on proposals to make those operators more accountable.

These would include rules for how platforms "address harmful material such as hate speech, terrorist content (and) content that incites violence".

Government officials said the consultation process would take place over the summer months.

The chances of the amendments being approved soon are slim, given that Wednesday was the last day of the current parliamentary session and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to trigger an election in the next few months.