Liberals’ Online Harms Bill Calls For New Hate-Crime Offence, up to Life Imprisonment

Liberals’ Online Harms Bill Calls For New Hate-Crime Offence, up to Life Imprisonment

The Liberal government today is tabling its new bill aimed at addressing “online harms,” and it goes beyond protecting children by targeting other categories of content.

The bill would add a new form of hate crime to the Criminal Code, punishable by up to life in jail, and give up to $20,000 in compensation to victims of online “hate speech.”

Preliminary details of the government’s latest internet legislation were released in a technical briefing from Heritage Canada and the Justice Department on Feb. 26.

It says that Bill C-63 identifies seven different categories of harmful content online.

Three of the categories relate to protecting children from sexual exploitation, bullying, or self-harm, and one category deals with sharing intimate content without consent, including deepfakes.

The other three categories relate to matters of expression by citing content that “incites violent extremism or terrorism,” or “incites violence,” or “foments hatred.” The briefing does not expand on those definitions.

However the bill seeks to add a definition of hatred to section 319 of the Criminal Code. This will be consistent with decisions of the Supreme Court to “help people understand what hatred means and what it does not mean,” says the briefing.

Section 319 refers to the public incitement of hatred and the wilful promotion of hatred and anti-Semitism.

Along with adding a definition of hatred, Bill C-63 also aims to add a new standalone hate crime offence to the Criminal Code, which would apply to existing offences.

Penalties for this new crime would be up to life imprisonment to “deter this hateful conduct as a crime in itself, rather than as an aggravating factor” to be considered during sentencing.

Justice Minister and Attorney General Arif Virani said on Feb. 26 that law enforcement would be able to lay charges for this new offence without obtaining consent from the attorney general, as is currently the case for hate crimes as defined in the Criminal Code.

The maximum punishments for hate propaganda offences in Sections 318 and 319 would also be raised to life imprisonment, from the current five years, for advocating genocide and to five years, from the current two, for the other categories when prosecuted by way of indictment.

The new bill, along with enacting the Online Harms Act and amending the Criminal Code, also seeks to modify the Canadian Human Rights Act. It would specify that posting “hate speech” online is discrimination, according to the government briefing.

People who believe they are victims of hate speech would be able to file a complaint before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal would be allowed to adjudicate cases and order the publisher of online “hate speech” to delete the material.

The poster could also be ordered to compensate a victim up to $20,000.

The legislation would establish a Digital Safety Ombudsperson to receive complaints from internet users, and a Digital Safety Commission to make sure digital platforms comply with the new rules. The government would appoint the ombudsperson and three to five members of the commission. The latter would be headed by a chairperson selected by Parliament.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the new bill last week as it came under criticism from Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre.
Mr. Poilievre said the bill would be Mr. Trudeau’s “latest attack on freedom of expression.”
Meanwhile the prime minister insisted the bill was necessary to protect children. “We need to do a better job as a society, keeping kids safe online,” he said, accusing Mr. Poilievre of “choosing to play politics instead of actually focusing on what matters.”


The services covered by the Online Harms Act include social media services, live streaming services, and user-uploaded adult content services.

The online services will need to comply with three government assigned duties, including the duty to act responsibly, the duty to remove some types of content, and the duty to protect children.

Under the responsibility theme, the government wants platforms to mitigate risks by “continuously” assessing, mitigating, and reporting on the “risks to users posed by their services.” Online services would also have to publish Digital Safety plans and share anonymized data with unspecified researchers.

Regarding content that sexually victimizes a child or constitutes intimate content shared without consent, the bill seeks to have an expeditious takedown within 24 hours. Users would be able to flag the content to the platforms or file a complaint with the Digital Safety Commission. There is no equal provision for the takedown of content deemed hateful.

Regarding protecting children, Bill C-63 aims would require online services to have age-appropriate design that puts child safety first, with features such as parent controls, content warnings, and the automatic disabling of certain features.

A government official speaking to media said regulations will include penalties for non-complying companies, which could go up to 6 percent of revenues. Companies impacted would need to have a certain number of users to be covered by regulations. A government official said these include platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X, TikTok, LinkedIn, and PornHub.

Another piece of legislation Bill C-63 seeks to amend is the Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service.

The bill would ensure that the act applies to online services and extend data preservation from 21 days to one year to help in criminal investigations. It would also extend the limitation period for prosecutions for offences under the act from two to five years.

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Written by colinnew

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