This week’s Law Bytes podcast departs from the typical approach as this past week was anything but typical. As readers of this blog will know, last week I obtained access to hundreds of previously secret submissions to the government’s online harms consultation. Those submissions cast the process in a new light. This week’s Law Bytes podcast explains why the online harms consultation was a transparency and policy failure, walking through what has happened, what we know now, and how this fits within the broader Internet regulation agenda of the Canadian government.
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The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 126: Why Canada’s Online Harms Consultation Was a Transparency and Policy Failure
Not an Outlier: What the Government’s Online Harms Secrecy Debacle Says About Its Internet Regulation Plans
My post on the hundreds of submissions to the government’s online harms consultation has garnered significant attention, including a front page news story from the Globe and Mail (I was also pleased to appear on Evan Solomon’s show and the Dean Blundell podcast). The coverage has rightly focused on previously secret submissions such as those from Twitter likening the Canadian plan to China or North Korea and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, who warn that the legislation would have risked constituting “one of the most significant assaults on marginalized and racialized communities in years.” If you haven’t read it, please read my post summarizing some of the key findings or access the entire package that was obtained under the Access to Information Act.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 104: Taylor Owen on What the Latest Facebook Revelations Mean for Canada’s Online Harms Legislative Plans
Facebook has once again found itself in the political spotlight as Frances Haugen, a former data scientist and product manager with the company turned whistleblower, provided the source documents for an explosive investigative series in the Wall Street Journal followed by an appearance before a U.S. Senate committee. The Facebook Files series comes just as Canada is moving toward its own legislative response to Internet concerns, with an online harms consultation that provides a roadmap for future policies.
The Canadian initiative has sparked widespread criticism, but recent events may only increase the calls for legislative action. Taylor Owen, the Beaverbrook Chair in Media, Ethics and Communications in the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University joins the Law Bytes podcast to discuss the latest revelations and what they might mean for the future of Canadian Internet regulation.
Tracking the Submissions: What the Government Heard in its Online Harms Consultation (Since It Refuses to Post Them)
The Canadian government’s consultation on online harms concluded earlier this week with a wide range of organizations and experts responding with harshly critical submissions that warn of the harm to freedom of expression, the undermining of Canada’s position in the world as a leader in human rights, and the risk that the proposed measures could hurt the very groups it is purportedly intended to help. I posted my submission and pulled together a Twitter stream of other submissions.
There has been some press coverage of the consultation response from the Globe and Mail and National Post, but Canadian Heritage officials have said they will not post the submissions they received, claiming some “may contain confidential business information.” Keeping the results of the consultation is secret is incredibly damaging, raising further questions about whether the government plans to incorporate the feedback or simply march ahead with an extreme, deeply flawed proposal.
Failure to Balance Freedom of Expression and Protection from Online Harms: My Submission to the Government’s Consultation on Addressing Harmful Content Online
The government’s consultation on its proposed approach to address harmful content online concluded over the weekend. The consultation was one of several consults that ran during the election period and which raise questions about whether policy makers are genuinely interested in incorporating feedback from Canadians. I submitted to all the various consultations and will be posting those submissions this week.
I start with my online harms submission. The full submission, which touches on issues such as 24 hour takedowns, website blocking, proactive monitoring, and enforcement, can be found here. To learn more about the issues, catch my Law Bytes podcast episode with Cynthia Khoo or listen to a terrific discussion that I had together with Daphne Keller on the Tech Policy Press Podcast. The submission opens with eight general comments that I’ve posted below: