Joy Smith has done something unwise, with the best of intentions. The Conservative Member of Parliament representing the Manitoba riding of Kildonan—St. Paul has introduced the Clean Internet Act (Bill C-427):
The purpose of this Act is to prevent the use of the Internet to unlawfully promote, display, describe or facilitate participation in unlawful sexual activity involving any person under eighteen years of age or to advocate, promote or incite hatred against any identifiable group or violence against women. [s.3: C-427]
On the occasion of the Bill’s first reading, Smith said:
Today I would like to present the clean Internet act, a private member’s bill that would address these things. Basically, it would put the onus on Internet servers to be careful of what they are accepting from customers. For instance, the bill would address the fact that child pornography is not okay to put on the Internet throughout our nation. We must all keep in mind that we need to stop the human trafficking that is happening in our country now and this bill makes a strong statement about that part of the Internet. [emphasis added]
What, then does this Bill do that the Criminal Code does not? Quite a bit, because this is a law directed at two groups: end users and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Also, while the Criminal Code’s hate crimes provision only refers to colour, race, religion, sexual orientation and ethnic origin, this Bill adds another group to the class of people under threat: women. [s.6: C-427]
Perhaps most controversially, the law requires ISPs be licensed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), who can revoke the license under several triggering conditions. [s.4(3): C-427] This means if an officer or director of a company commits a violent crime against a woman, the company could have its ISP license revoked.
The CRTC doesn’t want this authority. In 1999, the CRTC decided it was not going to regulate the internet. In its press release, it said:
Generally applicable Canadian laws, industry self regulation, content filtering software as well as increased media awareness are appropriate tools to deal with offensive and illegal content on the Internet.
Some parliamentarians seem to disagree. Perhaps they just don’t understand the internet. In a particularly revealing clause, the Bill defines an ISP to mean “a person who provides a service that facilitates access to the Internet, whether or not the service is provided free or for a charge.” [s.43: C-427]
This definition includes libraries, cafes, airports, municipalities, and anyone providing a wi-fi hot spot. How will librarians react to becoming information police? A FAQ about internet censorship in libraries can be had at the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic. They link to a useful directory of library policies on internet access made available by Alvin Schrader at the University of Alberta.
In addition to prohibiting ISPs from delivering illegal communnications, the Bill would charge ISPs that did not report information about violations of the law to the Minister of Industry, who is given the power to issue search warrants and to demand that the ISP block content [ss.4(3), 10, 13: C-427]. The only concession is that the Bill does not impose a duty upon ISPs to identify illegal communications.
If this Bill is enacted into law, some adventurous ISP might try to defend itself by making sure it never knows illegal content is on their server. To them, I suggest a look at the the doctrine of willful blindness. In judgement of an obscenity case, the Supreme Court of Canada said:
R. v. Jorgensen (1995) 4 S.C.R. 55.
- Sansregret v. The Queen (1985) C.C.C. (3d) 223
- R. v. Hinchey (1996) 3 S.C.R. 1128 (S.C.C.C.)
- R. v. Souter (1998) A.J. 736 (Alta. C.A.)
Canadian ISPs might object to the Bill by pointing out they voluntarily participate in Project Cleanfeed Canada, and filter its list of webpages containing child pornography. This system relies on tips gathered through Cybertip.ca (or by calling, toll free, 1-866-658-9022).
Not all like it, though. Parliamentarians seem to think it is not enough and free speech advocates think it is too much. Boing Boing‘s Cory Doctorow is critical of this blacklist; his reaction can be found at Michael Geist’s post on the topic. Quite a few comments follow Slashdot’s item about a Great Firewall of Canada.
So far, responses to C-427 seem to be uniformly negative:
- Slaw contributor David Cheifetz asks: “did MP Smith forget about a significant number of Canadians some of whom, at least, are worth protecting?”
- Michael Geist says: “Just about everything associated with this bill is (to be charitable) rather odd”
- CBC’s coverage reports: “The sentiment’s right, but the practicality is out to lunch”
This is not the first time the Clean Internet Bill has been introduced. Prior to Bill C-427, there was Bill C-210 and Bill C-507. The 36th and 37th Parliaments had the good sense to let these die on the order paper. Here’s hoping the 39th Parliament does the same.
This type of legislation inevitably draws some heated debate. Feel free to leave comments below. If you are feeling the pull of civic duty, respectful communications about this Bill can be directed to Smith’s office. From her parliamentary profile:
- phone (613) 992-7148
- fax (613) 996-9125
You can track the status of the Clean Internet Act, and see what happens to it in committees. Newer drafts and speeches will be archived there.
In a related vein, witness the story of 3 web publishers being sued for libel in British Columbia Supreme Court. The plaintiff, Wayne Crookes, is upset at references to him made by anonymous writers at Green Compost Heap, Wikipedia, and OpenPolitics.ca. Commenting on this, lawyer Rob Hyndman came up with the clever headline, Social (Media) Host Liability, and then had to edit comments because of libel chill.
Simply making available a forum for the exchange of information is attracting attacks in courts and legislatures. Do you think you have a legal duty to edit your blog’s comments when things get out of hand?