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Canadians can expect to shell out at least $200 million on the Liberal government’s “online harms” enforcement regime, which critics have blasted for violating freedom of expression. 

The Parliamentary Budget Officer made the estimate in a recent report on Bill C-63, also known as the Online Harms Act. Taxpayers funds will be used to establish its new full-time 330-person bureaucracy, if the bill, which mandates the creation of a Digital Safety Commission, passes.

The government’s independent budget analyst estimated that the total operating cost of establishing the bureaucracy proposed by the censorship bill would be $201 million over the next five years.

“The costs may be higher if the Digital Safety Commission, Ombudsperson or Office decides to employ significant external legal, IT or consulting services after reaching their full capacity,” the PBO said.

According to the report, the bureaucracy could have the capacity to reduce this cost through potential “administrative monetary penalties, fines, or regulatory charges it collects.”

Multiple parties have criticized Bill C-63 over its potential to limit freedom of speech through, among other aspects, the introduction of an online hate speech offence under the Canadian Human Rights Act. 

“Trudeau will spend over $200 million of taxpayers’ money on his useless 330-person censorship bureaucracy instead of using that money to hire police, protect Canadians, and lock up criminals,” Michelle Rempel Garner, the Conservative MP who requested the report, said in a statement. 

On her personal Substack, she estimated that “under-resourced” public safety institutions such as the RCMP could hire 204 new police officers for the equivalent cost of the “over-bloated” bureaucracies described in the bill.

Justice Minister Arif Virani, who has been the bill’s leading champion in the House of Commons, did not respond to True North’s requests for comment. 

Rempel Garner notes the report does not include a “still-to-be-costed” increase to the workload of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which, because of the bill, would be responsible for policing “a flood of extra-judicial ‘prosecutions’” over individual social media posts.

Rempel Garner believes that the Human Rights Commission will be “flooded” by complaints from online activists and offended individuals, which, due to the excessive increase in the commissions’ workload, could also increase costs.

“In their briefing with me, the PBO suggested that the government was not able to give its analysts estimates on the number of complaints it anticipated the CHRC would receive if the bill came into force,” Rempel Garner said in the article. “So, it’s reasonable to assume today’s $200M PBO analysis is just the tip of Bill C-63’s spending iceberg.”

On True North’s Andrew Lawton Show, Peter Menzies, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and former CRTC vice-chair, had issues with the cost of the bill as well.

He worries that the system will be used vindictively, saying that anytime somebody really doesn’t like something said on social media, they could file a complaint with the CHRC.

He thinks the bureaucracy described by the PBO report will be “even more active” than the already existing Digital Safety Commission, and although one might not be found guilty for illegitimate claims made against them, the legal process acts as a punishment in itself.

“As is often said, the process is the punishment. It can drag out for years, and they usually end up shaking you down for some money; no matter how innocent you feel you might be, the process just wears you down,” he said.

Menzies believes having social media companies agree to protect people online is a more effective and less costly solution than what the Liberals are offering with Bill C-63.