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Trudeau says regulating social media “hate speech” is “top priority” for heritage minister

The letter does not define “hate speech,” nor does it suggest Guilbeault must work to come up with a definition.

Canada’s new heritage minister must work to regulate social media companies that don’t swiftly remove “hate speech” from their platforms, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau’s mandate letter for Minister Steven Guilbeault was released Friday morning, laying out what Trudeau sees as being the “top priorities” for the file.

“(You will) create new regulations for social media platforms, starting with a requirement that all platforms remove illegal content, including hate speech, within 24 hours or face significant penalties,” wrote Trudeau.

“This should include other online harms such as radicalization, incitement to violence, exploitation of children, or creation or distribution of terrorist propaganda.”

The letter does not define “hate speech,” nor does it suggest Guilbeault must work to come up with a definition. While the Criminal Code defines it with a very high threshold, the government has entertained efforts to regulate online hate speech through human rights law instead.

Before the election, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights conducted a study on online hate, based on the premise that the repeal of section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which regulated online hate speech, left a void in Canadian law.

Appearing before the committee, free speech advocate and True North Investigative Journalism Fellow Lindsay Shepherd urged the government not reimplement Section 13.

 “It would cast too wide of a net and extremists who are already intent on causing real world violence will go to the deeper and darker web to communicate whilst individuals who shouldn’t be caught up in online hate legislation will inevitably get caught up in it,” Shepherd said. 

A Liberal member of the committee, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, suggested that the government implement a new body to ticket and penalize people who participated in online hate or harassment.

In June, the committee voted to erase comments made by Conservative MP Michael Cooper from the record after Cooper had challenged one of the committee witness’ statements for drawing links between conservatives and the mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonette.

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