Source: Facebook

One of Canada’s most renowned authors, Margaret Atwood, is among the concerned voices, joined by Elon Musk and Russell Brand, criticizing the dystopian future that might arise from the introduction of the Online Harms Act, also known as Bill C-63. 

Atwood posted to X on Friday saying that “if the account of the bill is true, it’s Lettres de Cachet all over again.” The Lettres de Cachet were orders signed by the King of France to enforce arbitrary actions and judgments that could not be appealed. People were imprisoned via these letters without a trial or opportunity for defence, resulting in confinement in a convent or hospital, being banished to colonies, or expelled from the state altogether.

“The possibilities for revenge false accusations + thoughtcrime stuff are sooo inviting!” Atwood wrote in her post

Perhaps most well-known for her bestselling novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which was subsequently made into a TV series, Atwood was called the “prophet of dystopia” by the New Yorker.

In the story, a totalitarian regime known as the Gilead overtakes the United States and enforces its rules under the guise of declining birth rates and environmental degradation. Women are stripped of their rights and assigned roles based on their fertility. Gilead’s control extends beyond reproductive rights, permeating every aspect of life with constant surveillance, public executions, and indoctrination to suppress dissent and maintain the regime’s grip on power.

Terming Bill C-63 as “Trudeau’s Orwellian online harms bill,” Atwood compared the bill to George Orwell’s renowned novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published in 1949, the book is a cautionary tale about the dangers of totalitarian rule, pervasive mass surveillance, and strict control of individuals and their actions in society.

The novel depicts a world wherein “thoughtcrimes” are punishable by the authoritarian regime, which employs the Thought Police to quash dissenting thoughts and expression. Thoughtcrimes are the act of committing a crime against the government in your thoughts. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Truth disseminates propaganda to suppress uniqueness and distort reality and historical facts.

Critics have warned of similar outcomes as a provision in the bill permits a court to enforce a peace bond, resulting in an informant “fears on reasonable grounds” that someone may commit a “hate crime,” even if they have not yet committed any such crime.

The judge could subsequently order this potential offender to wear an electronic monitoring device, be under house arrest, and more for up to one year. The period increases to two years if a judge finds that the person was previously convicted of hate crimes or propaganda.

In her post to X, Atwood shared an article about the online harms bill from the Spectator

Justice Minister Arif Virani, who tabled Bill C-63 in the House of Commons, said that he was grateful for Atwood’s interest in the Act in a reply to Atwood. He said the Act “would keep kids safe, apply existing laws to the online world and address the rise in hate—but the article you’ve shared mischaracterizes the bill.”

He added that he was happy to discuss with Atwood and linked an article from CTV News about the new measures for more context.

Bill C-63 creates a new hate law based on motivation, accompanied by increased sentences of up to life imprisonment.

Elon Musk shared a post on X from an article titled “Canadian law would allow judges to hand down life sentences for ‘speech crimes’ (no, this isn’t a joke).”

“This is insane,” wrote Musk.

Canada’s former chief of justice Beverley McLachlin said that the bill will face constitutional challenges in an interview with journalist Edward Greenspon.

“Life sentences for sending out some words. That’s heavy. And it will, I suspect, be challenged,” she said.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has already called for significant amendments to Bill C-63.

“Our initial assessment reveals that the bill includes overbroad violations of expressive freedom, privacy, protest rights, and liberty. These must be rectified before the bill is passed into law,” said the association’s Executive Director and General Counsel, Noa Mendelsohn Aviv.

UK actor and comedian Russel Brand questioned the bill on X as well.

“With Canada’s new ‘online harms bill’ set to make online hate punishable up to LIFE in prison, is Trudeau’s C-63 bill about protecting children or about labelling any speech he personally dislikes as hateful?” he asked.

When answering a question from True North’s Andrew Lawton last month, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre followed up with a question of his own, answering Brand’s question before it was asked.

“What does Justin Trudeau mean when he says the words hate speech? he asked rhetorically. “He means speech he hates.”

Atwood was previously outspoken against Bill C-11, warning against the Trudeau government’s online censorship.