Dystopian Proposal in Canada Targets Speech

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau | Image by Kena Betancur/Getty Images

A proposed speech crime law in Canada is being criticized as dystopian censorship that would make it possible to punish someone for what they might say in the future.

Described by some critics as akin to the 2002 dystopian science fiction movie Minority Report, the Online Harms Act is a Canadian piece of legislation intended to reduce harmful content on social media platforms. Under the proposed law, which President Justin Trudeau’s administration endorsed, Canadian judges would be allowed to order house arrest if they believe a person will commit hate speech. Furthermore, the law would actually make it possible for someone to be sentenced to life in prison if they are found to have advocated for genocide, reported Fox News.

As commentator Stephen Moore pointed out in a Public piece, people on both sides of the current conflict between Israel and the terrorist organization Hamas have been accused of advocating genocide. “Under Trudeau’s legislation, would they not be able to send their political enemies to prison for life?” Moore asked rhetorically.

Trudeau’s government has championed the proposed law as a way to protect children from sexual exploitation.

“I am the parent of two young boys,” said Justice Minister Arif Virani, according to Public. “I will do whatever I can to ensure their digital world is as safe as the neighborhood we live in. Children are vulnerable online. They need to be protected from online sexual exploitation, hate, and cyberbullying.”

However, some Canadians warn that Canada has become a testing ground for laws that would impose the most severe restrictions on the freedoms usually associated with democracies. Rebel News CEO Ezra Levant, speaking on Glenn Beck’s show about the bill earlier in March, said, “What happens in Canada today may happen in the U.S. five years from now. It’s like we’re a bad time machine to see your future.”

“There’s nothing that gets you life in prison in Canada, not even murder. But hate speech now does,” said Levant.

He then accused Trudeau of creating “a pre-crime for hate. If you have quote ‘fear of hate’ — that’s the title of the section of the law — you can get a judge to issue a kind of restraining order against your enemy before he does anything — before he says anything.”

This restraining order could include “house arrest, giving up any lawful firearms, limiting who he can talk to, directly or indirectly, limiting the places he can go, and requiring him to take urine and blood tests,” Levant continued.

According to Levant, the proposed law allows anyone, even non-Canadians, to utilize the law to make complaints against the speech of others and to even do so in secret.

“You can make a complaint in secret, and the target of your complaint never gets to know your identity,” Levant said.

“This is the most draconian, anti-free speech bill anywhere in the world, other than, I suppose, Iran and China,” he added.

Not everyone has been critical of the proposed legislation.

Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor, called the bill a “significant improvement” over the initial proposal, reported CTV News.

“To their credit, in contrast with some of the other digital legislation … the news and streaming bills, I think it feels like they really were driven by policy here,” Geist said.

Executive director of OpenMedia, Matt Hatfield, agreed, stating, “Many of the worst 2021 surveillance and censorship ideas are gone, and in their place, we’re seeing a more thoughtful, calibrated approach.”

Hatfield noted, however, that he and his organization still needed to give the bill a “close reading to identify remaining problems.”

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