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Canada’s Plan to Regulate Internet Blasted by Twitter and More, Reveal Unsealed Documents

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Professor Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa in a recent blog post shared a trove of submissions from the Government of Canada’s online harms consultation that had previously not been made public.

Included are submissions from Twitter, TikTok, Microsoft, Pinterest, the Business Software Alliance, and more, all heavily criticizing the government’s plans. Even Canada’s largest telecom companies (Bell, Rogers, Telus, Cogeco, Quebecor, and Shaw) provided a joint submission.

Only a fraction of consultation submissions were actually made public by Canadian Heritage, while the rest were never disclosed — until now. Geist was able to acquire these submissions by filing an Access to Information Act request to compel disclosure by law of the consultation submissions.

Geist’s request took months to process but netted him a 1,162-page file containing hundreds of consultation submissions that previously hadn’t seen the light of day.

According to the University of Ottawa professor, this broader package of consultation submissions goes to show that the government was determined to keep the majority of submissions hidden from the public eye until legally compelled to release them, that a lot more internet platforms participated in the consultation than previously disclosed, and that feedback on the government’s plans was overwhelmingly negative.

The most notable submission came from Twitter, Geist noted, which warned that the proactive monitoring of content proposed by the government:

“sacrifices freedom of expression to the creation of a government run system of surveillance of anyone who uses Twitter. Even the most basic procedural fairness requirements you might expect from a government-run system such as notice or warning are absent from this proposal. The requirement to ‘share’ information at the request of Crown is also deeply troubling.”

Twitter went on to blast the government’s website blocking plans, likening it to China, North Korea, and Iran:

The proposal by the government of Canada to allow the Digital Safety Commissioner to block websites is drastic. People around the world have been blocked from accessing Twitter and other services in a similar manner as the one proposed by Canada by multiple authoritarian governments (China, North Korea, and Iran for example) under the false guise of ‘online safety’ impeding peoples’ rights to access information online.

Further, there are no checks or balances on the commissioner’s authority, such as the requirement of judicial authorization or warnings to service providers. The government should be extremely mindful of setting such a precedent – if Canada wants to be seen as a champion of human rights, a leader in innovation and in net neutrality globally, it must also set the highest standards of clarity, transparency and due process in its own legislation.

The plans were even opposed by groups that might have been expected to support the proposal, including the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the National Association of Friendship Centres, the Safe Harbour Outreach Project, and the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has agreed to re-assess the government’s planned online harms policy with a new expert panel, rebranding the proposal as “online safety.” However, Geist says “the entire consultation process is an absolute embarrassment to the government.”

Despite massive pushback from internet platforms and social groups, the federal government is still marching forward with what Geist calls “anti-internet policies” in Bill C-11, which seeks to regulate online content, and Bill C-18, which will force internet giants to pay for links to Canadian news outlets.

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