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Feds task experts with helping rework bill on harmful online content

Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez announces a new expert advisory group on online safety as a next step in developing legislation to address harmful online content during a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez announces a new expert advisory group on online safety as a next step in developing legislation to address harmful online content during a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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After announcing they’d essentially be going back to the drafting table on their promised online harms legislation, the federal government unveiled the expert panel that will be helping them rework the bill aimed at ensuring the kind of behaviour that is illegal in-person, is also illegal online.

The panel—comprised of twelve experts and specialists in platform governance and content regulation, civil liberties, tech regulation, and national security— will meet regularly over the next two months and ultimately give advice to Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez about what the bill should, and shouldn’t include.

Through the yet-to-be presented legislation, the government had signalled its intent to make “online communication service providers,” such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok more accountable for and transparent about, how they handle harmful content on their platforms.

The government had identified five types of content as of particular concern: hate speech, child exploitation, the sharing of non-consensual images, incitements to violence, and terrorism.

In announcing the panel on Wednesday, Rodriguez said some of those who have been named, have been critical of the government’s proposal to crack down on harmful content online.

“And that’s some of the reason why they’re here today… because we need that diversity of points of view. We need those tough questions,” Rodriguez said.

Deciding to lean on outside experts comes after stakeholders identified numerous flaws that needed rectifying with their initial legislative proposal during a consultation process last summer.

Civil society organizations, online industry stakeholders, and academics came forward raising red flags and expressing wide-spanning concerns with what then-Canadian heritage minister Steven Guilbeault had presented.

In February when the government released their “What We Heard” report, it concluded that while the majority of respondents felt there is a need for the government to take action to crack down on harmful content online, given the complexity of the issue, the coming legislation needs to be thoughtful in its approach to guard against “unintended consequences.” 

The panel is being paid for their involvement, and the government has committed to publishing “non-attributed summaries of all sessions and discussions.”

While the Liberals have blown past their campaign commitment to move on the online harms bill within the first 100 days of their new mandate, Rodriguez said his priority is getting it “right.” It’s expected that the legislation would be tabled in the fall of 2022 at the earliest.

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