Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced an online safety law in Canada, joining European countries in trying to compel internet companies to actively regulate and remove harmful content. 

The Online Harms Act, introduced in parliament on Monday, will make platforms responsible for reducing exposure to damaging content, including material that bullies or sexually victimizes children, or incites extremism, violence or hatred. 

The law will cover companies that offer social media platforms, live-streamed video and user-uploaded adult content, as long as they meet a certain threshold of users, a figure that will be determined in later regulations. Firms such as Google’s YouTube and Meta Platforms Inc. are expected to be affected. 


It will also create a regulatory body called the Digital Safety Commission to enforce rules, receive complaints and order removal of content. An independent digital safety ombudsperson will also support and advocate for users.

Canada is late in introducing online safety legislation compared with jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom, European Union and Australia. During the 2021 federal election campaign, Trudeau’s Liberal Party promised to introduce a law that would “put a stop to harmful online content and hold platforms accountable.”

The bill would also create a new standalone hate crime offense that would apply to every other offense in the Criminal Code, allowing the conduct to be treated as a crime in itself rather than an aggravating factor in sentencing. It would allow for penalties of up to life in prison.

It would also establish a process for people to file complaints about online speech to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which could order the user to remove the content and compensate victims up to $20,000 (US$14,809). 

The bill adds to a list of contentious internet regulations introduced by Trudeau’s government in recent years. Critics have raised concerns about the balance between protecting internet users and safeguarding rights and freedoms. 

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, Trudeau’s main rival, called the bill an “attack on freedom of expression” before seeing the legislation.

Last year, the government passed two key laws targeting online platforms. The Online Streaming Act aims to force platforms such as Netflix Inc. and Inc., to fund local media and feature Canadian content. The Online News Act requires Alphabet Inc. to pay for news content.

In response to the latter, Meta has suspended all links to news content on Facebook and Instagram in Canada to avoid making payments. The news block is battering news outlets that relied on Facebook to reach their communities, including small organizations that are sometimes the only providers of local news in rural areas.