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'We will come in and have to be very aggressive': Digital charter targets hate speech

One of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top lieutenants was in Toronto, hoping to sell Canadians on a new digital charter governing the internet and your data.

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains gave a keynote speech and participated in a panel discussion at the Collision tech conference on Wednesday. He outlined the charter’s ten point plan a day earlier at an Empire Club lunch meeting in Toronto, which includes penalties for misuse of data or allowing hate speech.

In an interview at Collision, Bains told Yahoo Finance Canada it’s about making people feel safe and secure. He says the government needs to play a leadership role.

“People are feeling really anxious when they are online,” said Bains.

He wants to come down hard on hate on the internet.

“There is clear limitation to free speech when you are trying to spew hate,” said Bains.

“So why wouldn't we want to create a similar environment in the digital world.”

He says businesses need to do a better job of preventing horrors, like the Christchurch attack, to play out on social media.

“The Christchurch call to action is exactly that, step up, otherwise we will come in and have to be very aggressive.”

He also wants to weed out misuse of personal data and misinformation, that could have had an impact on Brexit, as well as the U.S. election. With only five weeks to go, there won’t be enough time to pass legislation in time for Canada’s federal election. Bains says current privacy laws already impose steep fines on violators, but wants to strengthen the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

It’s not yet clear how severe the penalties will be if the digital charter becomes the law of the land. Bains says the specifics are up for discussion.

“We want to make sure there are meaningful penalties and fines and enforcement is a key part,” said Bains.

“Because if people don’t respect our laws or follow our laws there has to be accountability for them.”

It could be similar to the European Union, which can fine a company a maximum of 4 per cent of its global revenue. Google (GOOGwas hit with a 50 million euro fine earlier this year. But that doesn’t mean Canada won’t have its own red lines.

“We are a sovereign country and we are going to make sure we put forward an agenda that speaks to the concerns that our citizens have reflected, but at the same time we want to make sure we create an environment for businesses that avoids a patchwork,” said Bains.

Bains is throwing the ball firmly back into businesses like Facebook’s (FB) court.

“This a very important step in the right direction, but the businesses need to step up as well. It’s a partnership model,” he said.

He says dealing with misinformation, like anti-vaccers, requires a balanced approach.

“We want to make sure we’re dealing with the root causes of the challenges we are trying to address,” said Bains.

“But at the same time, we don’t want to have the unintended consequences that would undermine innovation and new solutions.”

Bains also wants data to be portable and transparent so we can transport it to other companies seamlessly.

He has also asked the competition bureau to look at ways to level the playing field between tech companies, so the biggest players don’t have too much control over our data.

Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitte@jessysbains

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