The Story Does Not Support the Headline

Bill C-76 is often styled as being directed at preventing foreign interference in our elections. However, the title of the Act is the Elections Modernization Act and the vast majority of the statute deals with those issues.  This Canadian Press story is headlined ‘Feds poised to beef up bill to prevent foreign election interference.’ Despite the headline the story clearly indicates that the measures being discussed do not relate to foreign actors. Instead they are targeted at what appears to be changes in the use of the internet and social media. The work is based upon ‘Democracy Divided’, a report from the Public Policy Forum.

While I am entirely in favour of robust efforts to prevent foreign interference the measures discussed in Democracy Divided go well beyond that sphere. A summary of the proposed policy actions is included on page 1 and 2 of the report but, if implemented, they would represent a fundamental change in the way the internet works, for example:

  • Requiring publishers to identify themselves – are we removing the right of anonymity for anyone who uses the web?
  • Require that internet companies, like publishers and broadcasters, are legally liable for content appearing in their domains – am I going to be legally liable if someone posts hate speech in a comment?
  • Re-introduce a non-criminal remedy to investigate and respond to hate speech – what is the basis of the need for this unless the intention is to use the Canadian Human Rights Commission to police the internet? Sidebar – the authors discuss a fund to support victims bringing forward these complaints – under the Human Rights framework victims bear no costs as the Commission brings the claim. It is only the respondent who bears costs.
  • Subject algorithms to audits by independent authorities and make the results publicly known – the authors assert without argument that they are essential to the public interest and therefor should be independently audited. They also role out a requirement that platform companies should maintain a list of complaints related to issues of accuracy, hate, and responses taken and regularly publish that list. (pg 15-6).

Suffice it to say that the proposed changes would seriously reshape the Canadian online world. While I disagree with a number of the proposed changes even those that I would support have significant impact. They deserve a lot more consideration than a rushed debate that would occur in the year or less before the next federal election campaign.

 

Author: Tom Jarmyn