Can Canada Effectively Address Hate and Racial Discrimination on Social Media?

AuthorMcKay-Panos, Linda

Reading Time: 6 minutes

When regulating the Internet, Canada struggles with it being borderless and how to uphold freedom of expression.

In the past months, we have seen increased concern about hate speech and racial discrimination on social media in Canada and around the world. There are renewed calls for increased regulation of illegal content. In fact, a recent poll commissioned by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation shows 75% of Canadians are concerned about the rise of "right-wing extremism and terrorism". They also want the Canadian government to increase regulation of hate speech on Twitter and Facebook. The federal government has been holding House of Commons heritage committee hearings on the relationship between the government and Facebook. Facebook officials say they would welcome guidelines. The federal government hopes to introduce legislation on posting hate speech, child sexual abuse material and other illegal content on social media platforms in the first quarter of 2021.

Perhaps ironically, 25 years ago in a LawNow article, I asserted it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for the government to regulate the Internet for a number of reasons. My (perhaps idealistic) conclusion was:

However, if they develop a code of ethics and practices which reflect community standards, systems operators could provide a valuable service in preventing or eliminating offensive materials. Canada continues to struggle with the borderless aspects of the Internet when seeking to regulate it. There have been many instances of hurtful, harmful and dangerous communication on social media. How does Canada effectively address it, and, at the same time, uphold freedom of expression?

Many civil libertarians believe that freedom of expression, the cornerstone of democracy, should be very carefully limited. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association's view on Freedom of Expression is:

When government actors are allowed to decide which opinions can be expressed and which cannot, an open, vibrant and diverse society quickly breaks down. Similarly, when our court system is used to silence those with unpopular views or those who oppose powerful actors, we all lose the opportunity to hear all sides of an issue and come to our own conclusions. Freedom of expression is the right to speak, but also the right to hear. Informed political debate requires that this right be strongly protected, and it is only through free expression that individuals can take...

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