August 27, 2021
Since the web is “not subject to the same controls that exist in traditional media,” legal Internet content cannot be censored, a Quebec judge has ruled.
The decision came following the case of a Facebook user falsely accused of harassment, says Blacklock’s Reporter.
“All users become content distributors,” wrote Justice Martin Sheehan of Québec Superior Court.
“Posts are often done instantly, without thinking and checking. These publications are not subject to the same controls that exist in traditional media.”
Sheehan said while content on social media “sometimes gives rise to comments which may amount to virulent personal attacks,” Internet publishers “do not have the same obligations as a traditional broadcaster.”
The Montréal man was falsely named by a Facebook group that aimed to name and shame alleged harassers, and the plaintiff said Facebook should be responsible for defamatory content.
“If this proposal by the applicant were to be accepted it would have the effect of granting everyone the power to censor the comments of others on the sole basis that this content could be considered disagreeable or offensive,” wrote Sheehan.
“This assertion runs counter to freedom of expression.”
The Court said Facebook has a legal obligation to remove illegal material, but only if there is a report that demonstrates the material is in fact illegal.
Hate speech is outlawed in Canada under 1970 amendments to the Criminal Code, but on June 23 cabinet introduced Bill C-36 An Act To Amend The Criminal Code to further ban legal online content deemed to “foment detestation or vilification.”
Internet publishers, bloggers, Facebook users and more would face $70,000 fines and investigation by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The bill would also permit house arrest or electronic monitoring of Internet users suspected “on reasonable grounds” of thinking they might commit “an offence motivated by bias, prejudice or hate” without evidence of any actual crime.
The bill lapsed with the August 15 dissolution of Parliament. Cabinet has said, if re-elected, it will reintroduce the bill.
“We won’t catch everything that is awful out there,” Attorney General David Lametti earlier told reporters.
“There’s a lot of stuff out there that is absolutely brutal but doesn’t reach the standard. But we will identify a lot of things.”