The Canadian Online Harms Bill does not propose life imprisonment for anyone being 'hateful' online

By: Naledi Mashishi
March 8 2024

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The Canadian Online Harms Bill does not propose life imprisonment for anyone being 'hateful' online

(Source: Instagram/Modified by Logically Facts)


The Verdict Misleading

The Canadian C-63 Online Harms Bill would introduce life imprisonment as a penalty for promoting genocide, not for any type of "hateful" speech.

Claim ID 1fcacf30

What is the claim?

On 1 March 2024, a video uploaded onto Instagram claimed that the Canadian government has tabled a new bill "that would imprison someone for life for being 'hateful' online."

In the video, a man sitting at a table with a microphone says that Canadian President Justin Trudeau's government plans to pass a bill named C-63 Online Harms Bill.

"At first glance, it looks like a type of legislation that is used to protect children online, very similar to how the Online Safety Bill is being portrayed here in Britain," the narrator says. "However, if you look a bit deeper, it's actually mental."

He goes on to quote a paragraph under the subheading "Hate Crime" in the bill that states that anyone who commits an offense motivated by hate on the basis of race, gender identity, religion, or sexual orientation, among other protected categories, is "guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for life."

The implication in the video and the subsequent comments is that anyone who says anything online that is deemed hateful towards a protected group may be imprisoned for life if the bill comes to pass. However, this is a misleading interpretation of the bill. 

What we found

On 26 February 2024, the Canadian government published its draft Bill C-63 which aims to introduce a number of reforms to combat online harms, particularly against children. The bill aims to introduce protections for children, including criminalizing AI-generated child pornography and any online content that would bully a child or encourage a child to self-harm. It also aims to create a duty of responsibility for online platforms to regulate harmful content and an ombudsman to regulate social media services. 

The bill would introduce harsher punishment for hate speech online through changes to the Criminal Code and Canadian Human Rights Act. Specifically, it would increase the maximum prison sentence for hate speech from two years to five years.

The bill does mention introducing a lifetime imprisonment penalty for specific types of speech. However, this is specifically for promoting genocide. According to Section 318 (1), "Every person who advocates or promotes genocide is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for life." 

The paragraph discussed in the Instagram video does not directly refer to online speech. The Hate Crime paragraph would make committing a crime that has been motivated by hatred on the basis of race, gender, nationality, and other protected groups a chargeable offense.

Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, executive director and general counsel at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, explained to Logically Facts that this amendment would mean a change in how offenses motivated by hatred are prosecuted in Canada.

"So what they've done now is instead of [motivation by hatred] being an aggravating circumstance, it's actually now its own offense. So what does it mean? It means that instead of a prosecutor making a decision about whether this was motivated by hatred, it's now the police."

This means that previously, if a crime was motivated by hatred, then that could be a factor that increased the sentence. However, if the bill passes, motivation by hatred will now be a separate offense that can carry a maximum prison sentence of life. In Canada, a life sentence is 25 years. 

So does this mean that someone could face life in prison for saying something hateful online? Prof Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor who specializes in free speech, says no. He argues that the bill specifically separates hate speech from hate crimes and gives hate speech a maximum sentence of five years, excluding advocating for or promoting genocide.

The law explicitly only deals with "extreme speech [that] vilifies members of a particular group and presents them as subhuman, as inherently violent and dangerous," he said to Logically Facts.

In fact, the bill includes an amendment that excludes certain types of speech. It says, "For greater certainty, the commission of an offense under this Act or any other Act of Parliament is not… motivated by hatred based on any of the factors mentioned in subsection (1) solely because it discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends the victim."

In other words, the bill includes specific types of speech, making it misleading to argue that someone would be imprisoned for life for being "hateful online" without specifying that the life imprisonment penalty only applies to speech that advocates for or promotes genocide. 

The verdict 

The viral video claims that the Canadian government is looking to introduce a bill that would introduce life imprisonment as a penalty for being hateful online. However, the bill specifies that advocating for or promoting genocide would carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Other forms of hate speech would carry a maximum sentence of 5 years, and the definition of hate speech only deals with extreme forms that exclude speech that merely hurts or offends. Therefore, we have marked this claim as misleading.

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We rely on information to make meaningful decisions that affect our lives, but the nature of the internet means that misinformation reaches more people faster than ever before