Online Safety Bill-style law poses threat to free speech in Canada

Proposals to promote ‘Canadian content’ online amounts to government censorship, critics have warned.

Opponents of Bill C-11, known as the Online Streaming Act, have raised serious concerns about the impact of the legislation on freedom of expression and called for it be withdrawn.

Similar free speech concerns have been raised in the UK over the Government’s Online Safety Bill.


The Canadian Bill sets out broadcasting policy and makes the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) sole regulator of programmes on social media and the internet.

During a debate in the Canadian Parliament last month, Conservative MP Dr Leslyn Lewis said the Bill will make the government the arbiter of “what Canadians must view”. Subsequently , she tweeted: “This dangerous Bill should be scrapped”.

Writing in the press, her colleague Rachael Thomas MP said: “Effectively, the government, through the commission, will pick which Canadian creators get to succeed and which ones don’t—what you get to watch and what you don’t. There’s no doubt about it, this is censorship at its finest.”

Blaine Calkins MP accused the Liberal Government of “censoring the censorship of their own censorship Bill” after it was forced through the House of Commons. The Bill is now expected to pass to the Senate before the summer recess.

TikTok and YouTube

University of Ottawa law professor Dr Michael Geist said in a recent podcast that “everything from podcasts to TikTok videos fit within the CRTC power to regulate such content as a ‘program’”.

He added: “One of the most troubling aspects of Bill C-11 is the virtually limitless reach of the CRTC’s jurisdictional power of audio-visual services.”

Geist has also highlighted opposition to the Bill among prominent Canadian YouTubers, whose free speech warnings on the platform have “already generated hundreds of thousands of views”.

virtually limitless reach

Online Safety Bill

Parliamentarians, journalists and legal experts in the UK have raised similar free speech concerns over the Government’s Online Safety Bill.

The concerns are in keeping with those raised by The Christian Institute, which has called for radical amendments to the Bill.

In its briefing to MPs, it warned that tech companies are likely to censor “far more than they need to” to avoid being fined up to ten per cent of their annual global turnover if they fail to uphold their new duties.

The Institute also warned the Bill would give Government ministers huge power to redefine what constitutes ‘legal but harmful’ content that tech companies are incentivised to restrict.

Also see:

Lord Frost: ‘PM must prioritise an overhaul of the Online Safety Bill’

MP: ‘Online Safety Bill could censor legal speech’

QC: Govt’s Online Safety Bill ‘incompatible with human rights legislation’

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