Hate on the Internet | Minority groups doubt the effectiveness of the bill

(Ottawa) Members of minority groups fear that the hatred bill online will put limits on their own freedom and could turn them into targets for the police.

Posted at 12:10 p.m.

Mary Woolf
The Canadian press

These fears were raised during government consultations on this issue.

Documents, obtained through the Law of access to information, contain warnings that the bill is harming marginalized groups. For example, sex workers fear that the law will allow their website to be shut down, which could threaten their security and could even lead to their arrest.

The Minister of Heritage, Pablo Rodríguez, has commissioned a group of experts to study the issue, “which is the next step in the development of a legislative measure aimed at combating harmful content online,” the government said. in March.

If passed, the law would give more powers to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to obtain information from subscribers of service providers. These companies will have to report certain messages to the police and security services.

The government wants to update Bill C-36, which it introduced at the end of the last legislature. However, the legislation died in the order paper when general elections were called.

He had started public consultations just before the start of the election campaign. The introduction of an anti-hate bill remains a priority, he argues.

The bill aims to eliminate hate speech against women, racial groups, religious minorities and LGBTQ Canadians by blocking certain websites and requiring platforms to remove hate content.

Some members of these groups point out that the Internet is one of the few platforms where freedom of expression really exists for them. According to them, the bill could interfere with their rights.

Darryl Carmichael of the University of Calgary School of Law said in his remarks that the bill could harm racial or marginalized groups, especially if certain messages are misinterpreted as offensive.

“Black Lives Matter messages were falsely labeled as hateful and had been deleted,” he recalled. As a result, the voices of the groups we want to protect will be even more isolated. »

Indigenous people fear that the police will take advantage of the increase in powers to direct their speeches and demonstrations.

The National Association of Friendship Centers, a national network of indigenous civil society community centers that provides programs, services, and support to urban indigenous people, notes that “indigenous and community-led resistance activities have thrived online. “. Protests against resource exploitation depend on social media, as these “represent an important part of communication strategies.”

“These acts of resistance can easily be described as anti-government protests or indigenous cyberterrorism,” he said.

The organization warns that government agencies could use the bill as a weapon to identify anti-government protesters.

Experts say that algorithms can choose some keywords, without knowing the context or nuances of a post on social media. These observations would be misinterpreted and would lead to police intervention.

Professor Michael Geist, head of the Canadian Research Chair in Internet Law and E-Commerce, says “automated artificial intelligence warnings can put these groups at risk.”

According to him, the criticism highlighted during the consultation should lead the government to realize that it has taken the wrong approach.

Laura Scaffidi, a spokeswoman for Minister Rodriguez, said the government was “taking seriously what people told it during the consultation”. That is why a committee of experts on this subject has been appointed.

“We know this is an important issue for Canadians,” he said. We take the time to do things right. »

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