Will anonymity and hyperlinks be illegal in Canada?

How an obscure provision in a Conservative crime bill could change the Internet in Canada


I’ve blogged before about Stephen Harper’s tough-guy campaign promise to bundle up and ram through a bunch of crime bills within 100 days of gaining his majority. One of the three bills he’s mushing together deals with online crime, focusing of course on the usual boogeymen: child porn and hate speech. I’ve pointed to one atrocious aspect therein—Lawful Access, which will allow police to demand all sorts of information about Canadians from their ISPs without having to bother with pesky warrants.

Here are two more reasons to be very concerned about/appalled with the upcoming legislation:

It can make linking illegal.

From the Library of Parliament’s legislative summary:

Clause 5 of the bill provides that the offences of public incitement of hatred and wilful promotion of hatred may be committed… by creating a hyperlink that directs web surfers to a website where hate material is posted.

That’s just stunningly ignorant. Let’s put aside the ridiculous leap of reason that equates linking to something with saying something, and instead direct our attention to the sheer stupidity of this law on technological grounds. Namely, we usually do not have control of the things we link to. They can change. So if something I link to later becomes “hate material” then I will suddenly be guilty of a hate crime. Any sound legal advice in a country where such a law exists would be to stop using hyperlinks entirely, as they present too great a liability. And that would sort of kind of make the Internet itself illegal.

It can make anonymity and pseudonyms illegal.

Here’s the Library of Parliament explaining a change from an earlier version of the bill:

…regarding the offences of sending a message in a false name (via) telegram, radio and telephone. Clause 11 of the bill amends those offences by removing the references to those specific communication technologies and, for some of those offences, substituting a reference to any means of telecommunication. As a result, it will be possible to lay charges in respect of those offences regardless of the transmission method or technology used.

Wow. No “false names” on the Internet (or through telegrams, which bothers me less). Real names only kids—that’ll thwart the perverts!

To be clear: I do not believe that the Harper government is plotting to criminalize the Internet itself. Hey, Lawful Access started as Liberal legislaion! But whoever wrote it, it’s a terrible and stupid piece of law, and one that would never have survived committee in one piece. But Stephen Harper has promised to ram this stuff through, and now he has the majority to do it.

Shouldn’t someone tell him what’s in there?


Will anonymity and hyperlinks be illegal in Canada?

  1. If Fantino has a hand in this legislation, I just may stay down here a while. Heck, if Fantino is given any power whatsoever, I may try and get my visa extended another couple of years.

    • While you are at it, buy a few houses. :)

  2. From the examples above it seems clear that the Conservatives do not understand how the Internet works.

    I really hope that this legislation is appropraitely scrutinized and not passed as is.

    • Of course conservatives understand the internet. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. Out of this sophisticated understanding of the internet comes the crime legislation we see before us.

  3. Severely dumb, yes. And I doubt the NDP can be trusted to challenge it – they’re a little bit too much into the left-wing version of Nanny-Censor Government, like the Liberals.

      • thanks for the link Emily!


        • read the date :)

          • Emily simply quoted the article under the link.

            So what is exactly your point about the date?

          • I was suggesting you check the date of the article, like KeithBram did:

            “Emily, the Tuesday in question is Tuesday, Oct. 07, 2008. This is
            literally “old news.””

          • Well, that’s why I thanked Emily for the link (her post is a *verbatim quote* from the article)!

            I assumed everybody who follows the link will know when the article was published. And everybody who doesn’t follow doesn’t care.

          • ??????? I know what the date on it was, you nummies LOL

            It was also about Con censorship. Stop looking for faults all the time and pay attention to the message

      • Emily, the Tuesday in question is Tuesday, Oct. 07, 2008. This is literally “old news.” Did you have a point to make with this?

        • Yes, I was answering AVR with his comment of ‘the left-wing version of Nanny-Censor Government, like the Liberals’.

          Libs haven’t been the censors….Cons have.

          • Each have been censors for the forms of expression that most irritate them.

            The right-wing version of that problem focuses on suppressing attacks on traditional morality – depictions of “obscenity,” “depravity” and the like. The left-wing version is fine with counter-cultural attacks on traditional morality in the name of art, but is at the same time far too willing to promote oppressive, over-broad hate speech laws. And since the latter is what we’re talking about here, I don’t believe the NDP will fight very hard against it.

          • You mean you think the NDP would be willing to remove ‘hate laws’? I doubt that.

          • Wow @OriginalEmily1:disqus learn to read. The NDP supports hate speech laws -> a form of censorship. The Conservatives support eliminating anonymity -> another form of censorship. They do say the political spectrum is a circle and not a line, the extreme left and extreme right meet in the middle.

            This is why with one in power, and the other as the opposition, censorship is going to be imposed on all Canadians.

          • Sigh…that’s exactly what I said. The NDP supports the hate speech laws.

            Cons support censorship as well, just a different kind based on their ‘morality’

          • Supporting hate speech laws is not censorship. hate speach is a crime

          • @chris cater Hate ACTIONS are legally criminal, hate speech is civil and not the responsibility of the feds iirc.

      • That worries me. If Harper pulls the plug on that we better be watching his other hand. There is a distraction going on.

  4. One would hope a defense of ‘it wasn’t hate speech when i linked to it and i took it down as soon as i could’ would be sufficient in front of any reasonable judge.

    One could also claim an internet handle is not a false name unless you claim it’s your real name…

    Some context as to the intended use followed by clarification of the language would be desirable though.

    • True, but you have to end up in front of a judge to claim it right?

      Rather than turning millions of people into potential criminals overnight and forcing some citizens to go to court to defend this crap and thus pushing the supreme court to hear it, and then strike the law down… how’s about we just not pass the stupid laws in the first place huh? LOL

      • Or we could stop and appreciate the point of the law changes and not get worked up over a lazy tech writer’s panic attacks. As people have pointed out below, the false name provision is nowhere near as bad as it sounds from the article, it’s just updating a fraud law to reflect the existence of the internet.

        As for the hyperlinks, I imagine what they have in mind is someone who doesn’t write the hate literature but say, frequently, intentionally tweets links to it, and is therefore responsible in part for the proliferation of it, which seems like a reasonable goal.

  5. I would prefer to see the whole paragraph before I pass judgement. It is probably set up that if you ‘break the law’, while using a fake name, then there is a double charge.

    As far as the hyperlinks, if they can check with ISP without warrant, I am sure that they can tell when you hyper-linked it, and what content it had at the time.

    • Yes of course, but again, we create a lot of work and annoyance for essentially no reason, since I’m pretty confident that you’re not going to be nailing down a real criminal with such paltry offences.

      These ideas just seem lazy to me. As though someone hasn’t bothered to do the real work before putting this before parliament.

      The fact that we can find ways to work around the stupidity isn’t good enough for me.

      Take the time and pass intelligent, efficient laws for pete’s sake. There’s no need to appease the base to this degree anymore.

  6. My first thought on reading this was “why wasn’t this mentioned during the election campaign?”
    My second thought was “why do I think the question would have been answered if this had been asked during the election campaign?”

    Such is our politics.

    Anyway, this is the kind of article I’ve been wanting to see instead of all of this crap about Brosseau and Liberal leadership; examination and discussion of policies that are going to be put in place is critical and I can’t believe so many in the media are wasting their time on really trivial issues.

    Thank you.

  7. So if I start using hate-speech here does that make macleans liable? I HATE stupid legislation that originates from a sanctimonious fear-based sector of the population that is completely insulated from proper knowledge and information.

    Also, Canada’s contribution to the internet’s contents is so limited by comparison to the US and the UK that if I need a good source of hate speech I’ll just go to their websites. And what if I post a hate-link on facebook (an american site) on an account that doesn’t have my name using a US proxy? What if I link to an article about hate-speech that has examples for social-scientific purposes? What if I use hate-speech that is directed at people who use hate-speech (or attack ads as politicians call it)? Seriously, stop policing the internet. Freedom of expression.

    I’m very dissapointed in 39.6% of Canadians.

  8. Ill-considered legislation is not unique to this situation. There’s reportedly legislation in process in Tennessee that will make it illegal for a teacher to use the word “gay” in school. And I’ve unknowingly broken the law by bringing a bottle of Okanagan wine home to Edmonton.

    The real key is whether Harper will push this through even if its actual effects are brought to his attention. Then we’ll know what kind of government we’ve got.

    When Harper said the CPC was “here for Canada”, he seems to have meant he was going to take it away with him. I hope we can get it back some day, not too badly damaged.

    • In the spirit of this thread I would like to anomalously (since nobody believes my real name is Stewart!) provide a link so that any law abiding citizens in Alberta (i.e. the ones in Calgary) can protect your province from the pointy eared bootlegger. http://www.crimestoppers.ab.ca

      • Also if Coyne gets perpetual grief about his libertarian views while working for a publicly subsidized corporation, shouldn’t someone note that this article about the dangers of removing anonymity on the web coincides with the new, registered system of commenting.

  9. Okay, this is a good illustration of why it’s important not to jump to conclusions about bills, especially bills that amend prior Acts, based solely on reading the legislative summary.

    Though there’s no way of knowing this based solely on the LS, the “false names” amendment would NOT ban pseudonyms on the internet, nor does the current provision ban them on radio or telegram. Rather, it would extend the ban on sending pseudonymous messages with intent to defraud to include the internet. Which is much more reasonable.

    The bit about hyperlinking is real, though, and it is indeed stupid, though I’m quite certain that the mens rea of the offence would require the Crown to prove at least that an accused knew or ought to have known that the link led to offending material.

    • Yeah, I think the pseudonym clause is probably aimed at people pretending to be someone else with the intent to defraud or otherwise mislead – such as the senders of all those email scams like the one I received from “Mrs. Sara Ashkin” today promising to let me keep 30% of her $3.5 million if I help her set up “a charity home for orphanage and abandoned kids.”

      [Needless to say, I jumped right on that!]

      Nonetheless, they will want to be careful with the wording to ensure there are no nasty “side effects” or they may find they get quite a backlash.

      I agree the hyperlink bit is incredibly bone-headed.

      • Oh, there’s no “probably” about it–the “intent to defraud” bit is quite explicit.. Here’s the current Criminal Code provision in question:

        371. Every one who, with intent to defraud, causes or procures a telegram, cablegram or radio message to be sent or delivered as being sent by the authority of another person, knowing that it is not sent by his authority and with intent that the message should be acted on as being sent by his authority, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

        And the proposed amended section:

        371. Everyone who, with intent to defraud, causes a message to be sent as if it were sent under the authority of another person, knowing that it is not sent under that authority and with intent that it should be acted on as if it were, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.

        That’s from http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=4745885&File=30#2

        Again, this is not in any way apparent from the legislative summary, which only refers to the “false name” label from the section heading. It is not a very well-written summary, at least at that point, because this is quite clear in the bill itself.

        • Thanks – that clears things up nicely!

        • Nice, I like how you chose to quote 371 (yes, the defraud part, which I agree with completely) but completely ignore the rewritten 372 which also applies:

          False information372. (1) Everyone commits an offence who, with intent to injure or alarm a person, conveys information that they know is false, or causes such information to be conveyed by letter or any means of telecommunication.

          Indecent communications(2) Everyone commits an offence who, with intent to alarm or annoy a person, makes an indecent communication to that person or to any other person by a means of telecommunication.

          Harassing communications(3) Everyone commits an offence who, without lawful excuse and with intent to harass a person, repeatedly communicates, or causes repeated communications to be made, with them by a means of telecommunication.
          Punishment(4) Everyone who commits an offence under this section is(a) guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years; or(b) guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.@twitter-227909702:disqus is not my real name. @Not_Stephen_Colbert:disqus has a nuclear bomb (1).He also has sex with puppies (2).

          • With the post above I’ve filled 2 out of 3 criteria (only need 1) and once this bill passes I could be thrown in jail for 2 years. AWESOME!

          • Only if you intended to injure or alarm me. Did you? (If so, you have failed.)

            Oh, and for the record I did notice s.372, but I didn’t bring it up because a) they’re not directly related to the “false name” issue (you’ll notice that the “authority of another person” bit is not an element of any of those offences), and b) who the hell wants to read that much statute law, anyway?

  10. Presumably this also means that search engines such as Google will need to completely scrub their indexes of anything that could be construed as hate speech, or be exposed to criminal prosecution under this law.

  11. Hey, we know Maclean’s supports getting rid of anonymity- lol

    • I know you’re probably just making a joke but I thought I’d address your ‘concerns’ anyway. We have no problem with anonymity, are you yourself not anonymous? We just want people to have to make an effort to make a comment. No more useless drive-by comments that we can’t stop because someone can easily change their IP or use a non-existent email address.

      If someone knows that their account can be banned if they continue to cause trouble they’re less likely to cause trouble for troubles sake. (aka Trolls)

      Already I can see the quality of comments improving and this makes me(us) happy.

  12. Oh, come on! He knows what’s in there! Some of us have been griping about this for a year! In Winnipeg, 99% of the delegates voted for the CPC to add abolishing Section 13.1 of the Canadian Human Right Act to the party platform. Not only did Harper fail to act on that, his government has gone in the opposite direction and added something even WORSE to their crime bill! Those who voted for him have a moral responsibility to try to stop this. Will they?

  13. This is about as ridiculous as making it criminal in the USA to “lie” about being a Navy Seal. While it is illegal to steal any medal or commendation concerning the US military it is NOT criminal to lie about having received such. CNN’s J. Toobin has stated, correctly, that it is not a criminal offense to lie about having an honour, and should not be as it contravenes the US Constitution of Freedom of Speech. Such a case, prosecution for lying about impersonation, was recently rejected after a number of people have “claimed” to be a Navy Seal in light of the Osama Bin Laden operation. My point: if we allow the police complete access to what and where we express ourselves on the Internet than we are heading down China’s path to complete censorship and secret police. Not to mention the abrogation of Civil liberties and Freedom of Expression. We are now on a very slippery slope here

  14. The hyperlink proposal is ludicrous. The premise and utility of the internet relies on hyperlinks for it to work, for information to become linked in order to build layers of meaning and understanding. To add a clause to a site stating that one is not responsible for opinions or works of others ought to be sufficient.

    As for anonymity, I am kind of in favour of the proposal, although not at all as it is presented. Most sites require use of an email address in order to make a post. If one had to provide one’s real name when applying for the email address, but one also had the ability to create various identities based on nicknames, for use in different forums or on different sites, this would provide anonymity, yet the true identity could easily be traced back to the owner of the email address by the police in the event of a criminal investigation. This is the model I prefer.

    Hate speech is a ridiculous concept that has been widely abused. The Holy Bible has been called hate speech by some. The term hate speech is commonly used to defend unacceptable and immoral practices and
    to prevent the expression of opinions.

  15. Dear Libertarians,
    How do you like me now?

    • There had/have been and will always be questionable bills being sponsored and passed, no matter who and what the elected government happen to be. There is no such thing as perfect government or governance. That is the very reason why we should be alert and should exercise our rights to speak up. It is even more important that freedom of speech should be treasured as this the only way we could defend and protect our rights and freedom.

  16. Bill C-51 Clause 5 is an example of how good intentions do not always lead to good/well intended results. Their intended purpose on this might be to discourage those who are actively recruiting and brainwashing prospective Al-Qaeda/Jihadist/Terrorist/Anarchist members in Canada by using internet links/hyper links directing them to sites outside of Canada’s jurisdiction. However with the passing of this law, there will be greater risks in netting, punishing, and scouring innocents more than the guilty. We already have enough abuses and stupidity from Human Rights tribunals; we do not need to give them more ammunition to screw common sense and regular folks who are minding their own businesses. Government should push for freedom of speech legislation instead of curtailing them. There should be a clarity act on what constitutes hate speech. It should be limited to those speeches which advocate violence, so as not to mistake those that are just merely offensive on one’s sensibilities.

    As for Clause 11, privacy is becoming a rare commodity nowadays. We do not need the government to erode that even further. Taking shortcuts to get the bad guys is not enough of an excuse to penalize the rest of the population.

    The government should clarify, if not get rid, those broad, ambiguous, and sweeping phrases (such as “intent to alarm”). While they are it, abolish Human Rights Tribunals and transfer the budget from the kangaroo courts and move it to our Canadian Justice System.

    And to you Macleans, you should walk your talk. Changing your commenting system to this new intrusive system is a violation to what you preached.

  17. Outlawing “hate speech” in itself is offensive. The current definition is so broad that it can be leveraged for vexatious purposes, as evidenced by MacLean’s and Ezra Levant. It is enforced by a Human Rights Tribunal which admits it operates with no heed to due process.

    Freedom of speech is important. No ideas or knowledge should be forbidden – if an idea has no merit it will gain no traction in the marketplace of ideas. If you find ideas ‘offensive’ or ‘dangerous,’ then you should be allowed to say so.

    Outlawing ideas is an act of an especially dull person, who can’t grasp logic, can’t reason, can’t discuss, can’t debate. “Hate speech” is a slippery slope, and it’s upsetting to hear they’re working harder to quell freedom of speech.

    • I agree, but we should be able to outlaw speech that asks that we hurt others, or break the law. ie “Lets get together and kill Mr. Smith”

  18. Did I already mention he has a nuclear bomb (3)?

    There, I’ve filled not only 1 but all 3 criteria for section 372 and if this law had been enacted today I would be punishable by up to 2 years in jail.THAT is why this crime bill is ridiculous.

  19. While I am concerned with what this, bill C-51 is
    dead. As with all bills that were in progress with the 40th parliment.
    With the 41st parliment, there will be a new comittee that will draft a
    new bill. The new bill will not be the same as C-51. Rather with a
    conservative majority, it is likely to be much worse.

  20. I don’t think this is well written. I would like to be able to read the bill myself before my opinion is made. portions of this text could be taken out of context of the bill. The False name bit might only refer to people soliciting under flase names in order to commit fraud. I am pretty sure it does not mean usernames.

    • See above.

  21. Hey cons, why try and make free speech illegal? Isn’t Canada supposed to be democratic, because free speech is a democratic ideal.

  22. And technically this would make any form of reworking of digital art illegal, if part of the bill is the DMCA, then it’d effectively shut down Newgrounds in Canada, as the brunt of stuff on there is versions f game music and parodies of games — all versions of copyrighted material. Good job, Steve.

  23. Anonymity is about privacy, like the secret ballots we are all used to. Courts have said privacy is an essential foundation for freedom of expression and assembly.

    The Canadian government is on track to a bad precedent. In an omnibus crime bill it will mandate state invasion of internet & cell phone privacy without a warrant, requiring telecoms to keep records accessible to the government. 

    The state cannot open our letters and read them unless a court approves that there’s a valid reason. But letters are giving way to internet and emails as our standard way of communicating. These deserve the same privacy. The proposed legislation ditches it. It’s against the unanimous advice of Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial Privacy Commissioners.  It hasn’t been discussed in Parliament. With the 2 May Conservative majority in the House of Commons, debate in Committees and in the House may be little more than a formality.

    There are plenty of reasons why this is bad for Canadians of all political persuasions.  It may even infringe Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    There’s a reason for international concern too: a Canadian precedent for surveillance of private citizens without a warrant will create a difficulty for champions of privacy and liberty elsewhere in the world.

    This note just draws attention to the issue. Please see http://voices-voix.ca/en/node/272 for links to the more important information from others that it’s based on.

    Please talk this up with your friends and representatives.  Internet privacy is a global issue, so don’t be shy about searching for and speaking to people and authorities in other nations too.

  24. i don’t think they are talking about facebook. the topic is sex offenders on line. the example of making a fake  name punishable seems to me that it makes it easier to hold sex offenders responsible for more charges. 

  25. The idea is to persecute honest people.  How can an honest person tell of wrong doings without being anonymous?

    The idea is to stop leaks, and hide the crooked details of a corrupt and unethical government.  And the only reason I post this as I don’t have a job to lose.  The system is inately corrupt.

    Take a look at our ballots, same choices.  All big governemtn controlling us like debt-tax slaves.  No other options exist.

    I am a small c Conservative, but I sure see the Young Liberal of Canada in Harper.  Just another big fat huge wealth robbing governemtn type.

    Canadians through their apathy and misguided trust, have too much faith in governemtn.  We have lost most of our liberties, some like financial freedom gone.  All the government seems good at is controlling us an corruption.  I wasted my life being a good sheeples.

    Now they want to gag and persecute without warrant.  Guess real freedom and democracy it deteriorates fast.  As I know media manages us.

    Politically correct by many is political corruption.  Freedom of expression must be preserved to protect our rights and lend balance.  As the people with the truths are often the victims by the corrupt among us.  Who protects the truth?

    Good part is with the social revolution occurring in the Internet, change is inevitable.  Old like me no longer have faith in Ottawa (any party).  Young are social networked, less brainwahed, learning fast, have the history at their fingertips.  They will not be as apathetic or passive as my generation was.  Ottawa had better change to real freedoms and real democracy or their fears of the people will be realized.

Sign in to comment.