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View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Colleagues, I'm going to call this meeting to order.
This meeting is the 38th of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. We are resuming our study today on the protection of privacy and reputation on platforms such as Pornhub. I would like to remind colleagues that today's meeting is televised and will be available on the House of Commons website.
I would like to welcome Minister Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage, for the first hour. Accompanying him from the Department of Canadian Heritage, we have Joëlle Montminy, senior assistant deputy minister, cultural affairs; and Pierre-Marc Perreault, acting director, digital citizen initiative.
Minister, I'm going to turn it over to you for your opening statement, after which we'll have some questions for you.
View Steven Guilbeault Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good morning.
I would first like to acknowledge that I am joining you from Montreal, on the traditional territory of the Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee peoples.
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. With me, as you said, are Joëlle Montminy, senior assistant deputy minister, cultural affairs, and Pierre-Marc Perreault, acting director, digital citizen initiative.
Like you and many other Canadians, I am concerned by the disturbing rise and spread of hateful, violent and exploitive content online and on social media.
As a legislator and father of four children, I find some of the content of these platforms to be profoundly inhuman.
I am also deeply troubled by the consequences and the echoes of that content in the real world.
The overall benefits of the digital economy and social media are without question. In fact, I published a book, shortly before I took up politics, wherein I talked about the benefits of the digital economy, of artificial intelligence in particular, but also about some unintended negative consequences.
In Canada, more than 9 out of 10 adults use at least one online platform, and since the beginning of the pandemic, online platforms have played an even more important role in our lives.
We use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to stay connected to our families, friends and colleagues. We use them to work, to conduct business, to reach new markets and audiences, to make our voices and opinions heard, and to engage in necessary and vital democratic debate. However, we have also seen how social media can have negative and very harmful impacts.
On a daily basis, there are Internet users who share damaging content, either to spread hate speech, the sexual exploitation of children, terrorist propaganda, or words meant to incite violence.
This content has led and contributed to violent outbursts such as the attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City in 2017, and similar attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.
Canadians and people all over the world have watched these events and others unfold on the news with shock and fear. We all understand the connections between these events and hateful, harmful online discourse. We worry about our own safety and security online. We worry about what our children and our loved ones will be exposed to.
According to a recent poll by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, an overwhelming 93% of Canadians believe that online hate and racism are a problem, and at least 60% believe that the government has an obligation to prevent the spread of hateful and racist content online.
In addition, the poll revealed that racialized groups in Canada are more than three times more likely to experience racism online than non-racialized Canadians.
Since the beginning of the COVID‑19 pandemic, we have seen a rise in anti-Asian hate speech on the Internet and a steady increase in anti-Semitic rhetoric, further fuelled by recent events.
A June 2020 study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found that Canadians use more than 6,600 online services, pages and accounts hosted on various social media platforms to convey ideologies tinged with white supremacism, misogyny or extremism. This type of content wreaks havoc and destroys lives. It is intimidating and undermines constructive exchange. In doing so, it prevents us from having a true democratic debate and undermines free speech.
The facts speak for themselves. We must act, and we must act now. We believe that every person has the right to express themselves and participate in Internet exchanges to the fullest extent possible, without fear and without intimidation or concern for their safety. We believe that the Internet should be an inclusive place where we can safely express ourselves.
Our government is therefore committed to taking concrete steps to address harmful content online, particularly if the content advocates child sexual exploitation, terrorism, violence, hate speech, and non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
In fact, this is one of the priorities outlined in the mandate letter given to me by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. So we have begun the process to develop legislation that will address the concerns of Canadians.
Over the past few months my office and I have engaged with over 140 stakeholders from both civil society organizations and the digital technology sector regarding this issue. This has included seven round-table discussions. We also spoke with indigenous groups, racialized Canadians, elected provincial officials, municipal officials and our international partners to assess our options and begin to develop a proposed approach.
In addition, given the global nature of the problem, I have hosted a virtual meeting with my counterparts from Australia, Finland, France and Germany—who were part of the multi-stakeholder working group on diversity of content online—to discuss the importance of a healthy digital ecosystem and how to work collectively.
I am also working closely with my colleagues the ministers of Justice, Public Safety, Women and Gender Equality,Diversity and Inclusion and Youthas well asInnovation, Science and Industry to find the best possible solution.
Our collaborative work aims to ensure that Canada's approach is focused on protecting Canadians and continued respect for their rights, including freedom of opinion and expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The goal is to develop a proposal that establishes an appropriate balance between protecting speech and preventing harm.
Let me be clear. Our objective is not to reduce freedom of expression but to increase it for all users, and to ensure that no voices are being suppressed because of harmful content.
We want to build a society where radicalization, hatred, and violence have no place, where everyone is free to express themselves, where exchanges are not divisive, but an opportunity to connect, understand, and help each other. We are continuing our work and hope to act as quickly and effectively as possible. I sincerely hope that I can count on the committee's support and move forward to build a more transparent, accountable and equitable digital world.
I thank you for your attention and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Minister.
We'll turn to Ms. Stubbs for the first question.
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
CPC (AB)
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
2021-06-07 11:08
Thank you, Chair.
Minister, thanks for being here.
Just to start, do you think Bill C-10 is adequate to combat child sexual abuse material and rape and non-consensual material online?
View Steven Guilbeault Profile
Lib. (QC)
I was invited to talk about our upcoming legislation regarding online harms, which I'm happy to do. If this committee would like to invite me to talk about Bill C-10, I would be happy to appear at another time to do that.
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
CPC (AB)
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
2021-06-07 11:08
I'll take that as a “no” for Bill C-10.
Witnesses said previously that Canada's Criminal Code “child pornography” definition is among the world's broadest. It bans images, audio and written forms. Platforms are already liable for circulating illegal user-generated content. There are circumstances in which a company becomes liable for something that somebody else said or did if the company knew about it in advance and published it anyway, or if the company was notified about it after the fact and failed to take action. These situations are very well documented with MindGeek and Pornhub. It seems the real and disturbing issue is a lack of application of the law and its enforcement.
In January, you said that within a few weeks you were going to create a regulator to stop child sexual abuse material and sharing of non-consensual images online. I'm just wondering why there hasn't been any serious progress on that. I have a couple of questions about that for you from survivors. What's the delay?
View Steven Guilbeault Profile
Lib. (QC)
I respectfully disagree with the premise of the question. What we see here in Canada, and frankly, all around the world, is that the tools we have to deal with these harms in the physical world just aren't adapted to deal with them in the virtual world.
Let me give you an example. In 2019, the RCMP saw a 1,106% increase from 2014 of reports regarding child sexual exploitation online. This exploitation disproportionately impacts girls. In 2019, the RCMP found that girls made up 62% of identified Canadian victims depicted in online child sexual exploitation material.
I did say I was hoping to introduce this legislation in January. Unfortunately, the systemic obstruction by the Conservative Party regarding Bill C-10 has prevented me from doing so. However, I am still hoping to table this bill as soon as possible.
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
CPC (AB)
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
2021-06-07 11:11
Wow, what a ridiculous and partisan evasion on your part. What I would suggest is that if you hadn't spent months and months figuring out how to regulate Canadians' freedom of expression in their Facebook, Twitter and social media posts, maybe you would have had time to do a little work on this crucial issue.
The facts you read out are correct, of course, and deeply disturbing. Let me see if you have any answers at all on the legislation that you say is necessary for regulating online harm.
In terms of this regulator, what rules is it actually going to enforce, will it be the CRTC and what enforcement mechanisms will be in place?
View Steven Guilbeault Profile
Lib. (QC)
Obviously, I'm here to talk about the objective of the legislation. Since it hasn't been tabled, I can't go into detail about it. However, once the legislation has been tabled, I would be happy to come before this committee again and testify as to the details and mechanics of said legislation.
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
CPC (AB)
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
2021-06-07 11:12
I think you have spoken about the concept of having a 24-hour takedown rule, so that once it has been notified that material is there, there would be a provision for that. I think that's a good idea. Of course, the trouble is that when child sexual abuse material or non-consensual images have been up for even 24 hours, they can have hundreds or thousands of viewers—millions in the case of Pornhub and MindGeek. We've heard from victims that explicit images of them were online for three years before they found out. In the case of Serena Fleites, hers was shared and downloaded all over her school before she knew. Then she got into a never-ending back and forth to try to get the platforms to be accountable and to take down the materials.
Can you explain or enlighten us about what prevention mechanisms might actually be in place?
View Steven Guilbeault Profile
Lib. (QC)
This is a very good question. My office and my department have spoken as well with victims and victims' organizations. What we want to do with this legislation is to really shift the challenge for victims of having to try to get these images taken down—if we're referring to images that we would find on Pornhub, for example. We're trying to shift the burden of doing this from the individual to the state. It would be up to the Government of Canada, through a regulator, to do that, as it is in other countries, such as Australia, with their e-safety commissioner.
That's the goal we're pursuing with the tabling of this legislation. You are correct; we are also working to ensure that not only are the images taken down but they are removed from websites or associate websites to prevent, for example, the download of such images. They're not going to be downloaded and uploaded and downloaded and uploaded, as we've seen in many cases.
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
CPC (AB)
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
2021-06-07 11:14
Do you also believe that companies must be more responsible for ensuring that the content they are publishing does not contain minors and has the express and explicit consent of the individuals depicted?
View Steven Guilbeault Profile
Lib. (QC)
Companies should abide by Canadian laws. Whether they're online companies or physical companies, there should be no distinction. As I said earlier, the challenge we face now is that the tools we have to deal with these online harms just aren't adapted to the virtual world.
View Chris Warkentin Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you, Ms. Stubbs.
We'll turn to Mr. Sorbara for the next six minutes.
View Francesco Sorbara Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair, and good morning to everybody. It's nice to be here this Monday morning, and again, welcome, Minister. It's great to see you here today. Thank you for all the hard work that you and your team are undertaking for all Canadians.
Minister, the first thing I would like to inquire about is the following. In mid-January, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation conducted a survey on Canadians' perceptions and recommendations on the spread of hate speech and racism on social media platforms. The survey shows that racialized groups are three times more likely to be exposed to or targeted by violence on social media. The proliferation of such content can result in hate crimes, which have gone up seven per cent this year across the country. These numbers have resonated painfully with our own recent history. Just four years ago, six people were murdered as they gathered for the evening prayer at the Grand Mosque in Quebec City. Islamophobia and xenophobia motivated this act. We learned shortly after that the perpetrator was radicalized through social media.
People here in Canada are harmed and victimized by hateful, violent, extremist, terrorist and radicalizing content. The online environment amplifies and spreads hateful messages against minority communities and the disenfranchised in ways we have never seen before. It's actually quite terrifying, to be honest.
Given that creating new regulations for social media platforms is in your mandate letter, and you mentioned you would bring legislation forward soon, could you provide us with an update on the essential work you are doing to protect Canadians online?
Thank you, Minister.
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