Open letter to Government of Canada against new online harms rules

Dear members of the Canadian government’s “Digital Citizen Initiative,”
I am writing to express my alarm and disapproval over the proposed “online harms rules” legislation that the Canadian government now proposes—a combination, it seems, of the worst, most rights-violating regulations adopted in other jurisdictions, many of which aren’t exactly known as bastions of democracy and expressive freedoms.
Your proposed legislation’s combination of
* prohibitions of broad and poorly defined speech categories;
* disproportionate penalties for insufficient blocking; and
* requirement of rapid compliance without time for adequate assessment or counter-notifications
all guarantee that the major tech firms, on which the onus of your proposed regulations falls, will block all kinds of legitimate speech — and will disproportionately affect marginalized and minorities to persons and communities, as has been shown where such rules have been implemented elsewhere. (See @doctorow’s analysis and that by U Ottawa professor Michael Geist.) Online harms rules have proven a human rights disaster in other jurisdictions; France’s rules were recently ruled as unconstitutional.
I urge you to take this whole proposal either back to the proverbial drawing board—or entirely off the table. The Canadian government surely has bigger and more urgent priorities then over-regulating and preferentially censoring citizens’ constitutional expressive rights and freedoms.
Sincerely
– Mark A. McCutcheon
Professor, Literary Studies
Chair, Centre for Humanities
Athabasca University

[PS: Have your say—contact the Government of Canada’s “Digital Citizen Initiative” to tell them what you think of the new online harms rules legislation.]

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