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Who is supporting, opposing new online harms bill?

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Now that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's sweeping online harms legislation is before Parliament, allowing key stakeholders, major platforms, and Canadians with direct personal experience with abuse to dig in and see what's being proposed, reaction is streaming in.

In short, the "Online Harms Act" creates new obligations for online platforms, livestreaming, and adult-content services such as Facebook, Twitch, and PornHub to reduce exposure to, empower users to flag, and be more transparent about how they handle seven categories of harmful content.

When it comes to content that sexually victimizes a child or revictimizes a survivor, as well as intimate content posted without consent, the online services would have to remove it within 24 hours or face strict penalties.

Further, the legislation proposes the creation of a new Digital Safety Commission to enforce the new regulatory framework, and a new Digital Safety Ombudsperson to enhance public awareness about the ills of the online world.

Tucked in, too, are Criminal Code reforms to beef up penalties for hate crimes and improvements to Canada's rules around the mandatory reporting of "internet child pornography" by internet service providers.

Bill C-63 sponsor Justice Minister Arif Virani told reporters on Tuesday that the Liberals "reflected very deeply on this bill," noting the extensive years-long consultations and deliberations that led up to the legislation's introduction on Monday.

So, what are those who the federal government consulted saying now?

CTVNews.ca has rounded up reaction from across the country, and it's a mix of cautious positivity and calls for parliamentarians to parse the nearly 90-page bill carefully yet swiftly, while Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is voicing opposition to what he considers a bureaucratic approach to criminal matters.

Here's how Bill C-63 is going over.

Victims, families of online sextortion

A woman, who appeared alongside the government at Monday's press conference who went by "Jane Doe" to protect her and her child's identity told CTV News that the bill is giving her hope.

Over a two-year span she said her toddler daughter was sexually abused by a trusted adult. It was filmed and put online, but now she's expressing optimism that these new rules could help address the proliferation of this kind of content.

"When we were talking about her images that were online, she asked me… 'But mom, you can take them down forever right?' And I couldn’t respond as a parent, I didn’t know what to say," she said.

Speaking as a survivor of online hate, racism, and stalking on social media, Carla Beauvais, said in French during Monday's event that the legislation is "just the beginning of a series of necessary actions which, I hope, will protect us from the scourge of online hatred and raise awareness of its devastating effects."

Leah Parsons—whose daughter Rehtaeh Parsons died in 2013 following a suicide attempt after being subjected to months of cyberbullying, and is now dealing with separate online challenges with her 14-year-old daughter— said Bill C-63 is the "next step" in better protecting Canadian children online.

"These platforms need to be accountable through legislation," she said, while also calling for more to be done to educate children about the real-life risks associated with their online activity.

Platforms likely to be regulated

Minister Virani told reporters Tuesday that the bill's aim is "not to chase platforms out of Canada."

"We want platforms operating in Canada, but we want them operating at a baseline standard of safety… That is what we're doing with this legislation which I think is fundamental," he said.

But, after strong pushback from platforms including Meta and YouTube to the Liberals' previous online streaming and online news bills, how is this package of reforms going over?

In a statement, Meta—which owns Facebook, Instagram and Threads—pointed to its existing tools, features, and resources targeted at teens' safety and said the platform already does not allow content that endangers children and already proactively detected and removed 99 per cent of violating content before it was reported.

"We support the federal government's goal of helping young people have safe, positive experiences online and have spent more than a decade developing industry-leading tools and policies to protect them," said the company in an unattributed statement. "We look forward to collaborating with lawmakers and industry peers on our long-standing priority to keep Canadians safe."

Adult content site PornHub is said to be reviewing Bill C-63 and plans to have more to say in the coming days.

Similar to other stakeholders, PornHub supports legislation that will protect children online but in order to do so, any legislation must be enforced against all platforms, according to Sarah Bain, vice president of public engagement at Ethical Capital Partners which acquired Aylo, and its portfolio of adult entertainment properties including PornHub.

CTV News has also reached out to online streaming site Twitch for comment.

Online advocacy, internet experts

Internet advocacy organization OpenMedia is calling Bill C-63 a "night and day improvement" from the Liberals' initial 2021 hardly-criticized proposal, noting this legislation takes a "less punitive approach."

"Many of the worst 2021 surveillance and censorship ideas are gone, and in their place we're seeing a more thoughtful, calibrated approach," said OpenMedia executive director Matt Hatfield in a statement, while cautioning the bill must still be stress-tested.

"Over the days ahead, we'll be giving C-63 a close reading to identify remaining problems and ensure they are addressed in the amendment process."

Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor and the Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law, was among the strong critics of the government's initial online harms plans, but speaking to CTV News he said the current bill is a "significant improvement."

"To their credit, in contrast with some of the other digital legislation… the news and streaming bills, I think it feels like they really were driven by policy here," Geist said, pointing to the Liberals moving away from approaches such as website blocking and widely applied mandatory takedown rules.

His outstanding concerns remain centred around how the new rules will be enforced and the role of the new commission, which he said feels a bit like "a mini CRTC," Canada's broadcast and telecommunications regulator.

"It's got enormous powers, investigative powers, the ability to demand information, it will conduct hearings, it can decide that those hearings can be conducted privately if it wants, it's not subject to any rules of evidence, and even the commission itself, it's a fairly small group of commissioners," said Geist, adding that these factors raise "some real concerns."

Minority, anti-hate groups

Coming amid heightened attention around a rise in online hate, minority advocacy groups are largely welcoming the bill, while noting it is long overdue, with some signalling they may be pushing for amendments to further improve it, as the parliamentary scrutiny process begins.

"This legislation has come at a time when it is needed most," said Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) vice president Richard Marceau, who said the bill reflects many of the requests made to the federal government by Canada's Jewish community to help combat online radicalization, hate, antisemitism, and terrorism.

Crown Corporation the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) said it views Bill C-63 as a positive step towards making the internet safer while upholding freedom of speech.

"Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to commit acts of hate. This legislation is overdue and addresses a glaring gap in the digital realm that has long posed a threat to people in Canada," said CRFF CEO Mohammed Hashim.

And, according to The Canadian Press, while welcoming the reintroduction of online hate speech as a discriminatory practice in the bill—a provision previously repealed by the last Conservative government over free speech concerns—former Canadian Anti-Hate Network chair Bernie Farber, is warning parliamentarians against turning online hate speech into a game of political "yo-yo."

Poilievre, New Democrats

On Tuesday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre indicated his party remains opposed to the Liberals' online harms approach, while agreeing that more should be done when it comes to addressing sexually victimizing a child or revictimizing a survivor online; bullying a child online; inducing a child to harm; and intimate content communicated without consent.

"We believe that these serious acts should be criminalized, investigated by police, tried in court and punished with jail, not pushed off to new bureaucracy that does nothing to prevent crimes and provides no justice to victims," Poilievre said.

"We do not believe that the government should be banning opinions that contradict the prime minister's radical ideology."

The federal New Democrats have already come out in early support of the bill, though NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's House Leader Peter Julian told reporters on Monday that his party will likely seek amendments to enhance algorithm transparency.

"The important thing is all members of Parliament have to be working to get to the bottom of all aspects of the bill," he said. "This bill is too important to be playing around with."  

IN DEPTH

Who is supporting, opposing new online harms bill?

Now that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's sweeping online harms legislation is before Parliament, allowing key stakeholders, major platforms, and Canadians with direct personal experience with abuse to dig in and see what's being proposed, reaction is streaming in. CTVNews.ca has rounded up reaction, and here's how Bill C-63 is going over.

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