The Canadian government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, unveiled its Online Harms Act on Monday (26 February). The proposed law comes equipped with stringent penalties, including life imprisonment for inciting genocide.

Drawing inspiration from the EU’s Digital Services Act, the legislation will compel internet companies to actively regulate and eliminate harmful content.

The Online Harms Act targets social media platforms, live streaming services, and adult content websites.

These include posts bullying children, encouraging self-harm, and sexualising children, content which platforms must remove within 24 hours.

The bill also aims to ban deepfake images, exemplified by recent viral incidents like Taylor Swift’s manipulated images.

The proposed amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act would classify hate speech as discrimination, empowering the Human Rights Tribunal to handle such offences.

The legislation aligns with global efforts, with countries like the UK, Australia, and France also introducing laws to curb online hate content.

The new law emerges amid tensions between the government and social media companies regarding compensating news publishers for their content.

The proposed bill identifies seven types of harmful content, focusing on protecting children and society from sexual exploitation, violence, terrorism, and hate crimes.

It places new responsibilities on social media firms to reduce exposure to harmful content, implement safety measures, and enhance transparency.

The legislation also seeks to enhance existing laws, including refining the definition of “hatred” in Canada’s Criminal Code and increasing penalties for hate crimes. A new hate crime offence targeting those who promote violence against identifiable groups is also proposed.

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