Liberal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said regulations on online hate speech could “theoretically” include the ability for the government to block access to non-compliant websites.

Guilbeault said this during a virtual panel on online harms hosted by the Liberal-connected group Canada 2020.

Guilbeault said the government would create a “new body” to oversee enforcing any incoming internet regulation, with the potential for the proposed regulator to use “blocking orders” to deny Canadians access to websites that do not comply with government content rules.

“Could we envision having blocking orders? Maybe. It would likely be a last resort, a nuclear bomb in a toolbox of mechanisms for a regulator,” said Guilbeault. “It’s pretty extreme, but theoretically it is a tool that is out there and could potentially be used. But really no decisions have been made on that. This is something you would see as part of the regulations most likely.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tasked Guilbeault with crafting several pieces of legislation including a revamping of Canada’s Broadcasting Act and a new regulatory system meant to address online hate, disinformation and misinformation. 

In his mandate letter to Guilbeault, Trudeau directed the minister to treat online hate speech regulation as a top priority for his term.

While the promised bill has not yet been tabled, Guilbeault has said it will define hate based on the Supreme Court of Canada’s Whatcott decision, which found even truthful statements can be classified as hate speech depending on the utterer’s intent.

Earlier in the Canada 2020 discussion, Guilbeault drew attention to general concerns about abusive content directed at politicians and their families.

“We have seen too many examples of public officials retreating from public service due to the hateful online content targeted towards themselves or even their families,” said Guilbeault during an opening statement. 

“I have seen first hand alongside other Canadians the damaging effects harmful content has on our families, our values and our institutions. As a dad and a stepdad to six kids, I know more can and should be done to create a safer online environment.”

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