Liberals have decided to start from scratch on their bill to combat online hate

Canadian Heritage Minister at press conference on online hate, March 30, 2022. (Facebook screenshot)

The federal government is heading back to square one in its attempt to craft legislations that would combat online hate, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced March 30.

A panel of 12 experts—some of whom were harsh critics of an earlier bill—will advise the government on a legislative and regulatory framework to address hateful content online. Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, is among the primarily academic experts who will hold nine workshops over the next two months to discuss the issue.

“It’s clear that harmful online content is a serious problem, but there is no consensus on how to address it. We’re asking the expert advisory group to go back to the drawing board,” Rodriguez said in a press release.

The Liberal government had introduced a bill combatting online hate, as well as sexual exploitation of children and incitement to violence in June 2021, but it died on the order paper when the election was called. Bill C-36 was criticized at the time for restricting freedom of speech and for being unenforceable.

“Canadians want the government to play a role, especially when it comes to standing up for the communities who suffer the most from this horrible content online, such as racialized Canadians, LGBTQ and religious minorities. However, we also heard concerns about the complexity of the concerns and we were cautioned about unintended consequences,” Rodriguez said at a press conference introducing the advisory panel. “It was clear we had not the precise solution at that moment.”

More than one in three Canadians report encountering “harmful content” at least once a week, while that number rises to one in two for those who regularly use social media to get their news, Rodriguez said.

The Liberal government had said that introducing a new online hate bill would happen within its first 100 days in office, however that deadline has passed.

Two things were noteworthy in Rodriguez’s announcement, said Richard Marceau, vice-president of external affairs and general counsel for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

“There was an expectation for government to do something. The second thing is there has to be greater accountability for internet platforms, which are two principles with which we agree,” Marceau said in an interview with The CJN.

“I’m optimistic we’ll have something that will makes a dent against in the Jew-hatred that we’re seeing rising all around us.”

While there are critics who want no regulation, citing freedom of speech, CIJA has argued that there is a middle ground, Marceau said.

“There is no right not be offended anywhere in Canadian law. So, the question is then, what would be considered hate? Is the bar high enough to make sure that what is sometime unpleasant not be caught by the definition, while what is really hateful is caught?”

A 2013 Supreme Court decision defined hate in a legal sense, and CIJA has advocated that precedent should be followed, he said.

Meanwhile, the government is continuing to draft the National Action Plan on Combatting Hate. Ahmed Hussen, minister of housing and diversity and inclusion, announced on March 29 that the government will hold public consultations on the plan.  

Over 400 recommendations have already been gathered from town halls with Indigenous people, and members of racialized communities and religious minorities. The government also held national summits on antisemitism and Islamophobia last summer to develop its anti-racism strategy.

“For far too long, people in Canada and around the world have experienced unimaginable acts of hatred just for being themselves and recent figures have shown a rise in reported the crimes during the first year of the pandemic,” Hussen said in a press release.

Hate crimes reported to police increased by 37 percent in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to data released by Statistics Canada this month. Hate crimes targeting racial or ethnic groups almost doubled in the first year of the pandemic, while Jews continued to be the most targeted religious group.

The Canadian Coalition to Combat Online Hate, of which CIJA is a founding member, also unveiled a new website to give parents, youth and educators more resources this week.

The website had long been in the works, and was not timed to coincide with Rodriguez’s announcement, Marceau said. offers tutorials, articles and other resources on how to identify misinformation, bias and hate online. It also has a guide on how to report hate on a variety of social media platforms.

The coalition is funded by the department of Canadian Heritage, as part of its anti-racism program.