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Politics Liberals may have to require social-media companies to act on hate speech, Minister of Democratic Institutions says

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould waits to appear before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in West Block in Ottawa, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould says that the governing Liberals may have to require social-media giants to act when they fail to remove hate speech from their platforms.

She made the remark after Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith raised comments that were directed at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a “Yellow Vest” Facebook page. During a session of the House of Commons ethics committee, he said the person on the page called Mr. Trudeau a “traitor to our country” who deserves to be “hung for treasonous crimes.”

Mr. Erskine-Smith said the committee has recommended imposing a requirement on social-media platforms to remove “manifestly illegal content in a timely fashion,” which includes hate speech, harassment and disinformation.

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“That’s posted on Facebook, that’s left on Facebook. … So should we expect social-media companies to act or should we require them to act?”

Ms. Gould, who was appearing before the committee, said, “That is outside the scope of my specific mandate right now, but I think that when we have very clear evidence that they are contravening laws here in Canada, that they should be acting responsibly in that manner. I think that we are moving in a direction where we need to require social-media companies to act.”

The RCMP said on Monday that they are aware of the comments made on Facebook, and that they take all threats made against the Prime Minister very seriously.

Staff Sergeant Tania Vaughan would not say if the RCMP are investigating the comments, saying that generally the force would only confirm an investigation in the event that it results in the laying of criminal charges.

Read more: RCMP aware of comments made about Trudeau on Yellow Vest Facebook page

From the comments: ‘Colour of the times’: Readers discuss threats against Justin Trudeau in Yellow Vest Facebook group

Facebook Canada, when asked about the Yellow Vest page and the comments made about Mr. Trudeau, said in a statement the company does not tolerate “harassment or credible threats of violence on Facebook and it’s our aim to prevent any potential real-world harm that may be related to content on our platform.

"That’s why we remove content, disable accounts, and use a combination of technology, reports from our community, and human review to enforce our policies,” said Kevin Chan, head of public policy for the company.

Mr. Erskine-Smith asked experts testifying before the committee about comments made by Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council, who last week told the Commons justice committee that he worries about incitements to violence when people use terms such as “treason” and “traitor” in open discourse. Mr. Wernick added at the time that those words lead to “assassination” and that he fears somebody is going to be shot during the federal election campaign later this year.

Allen Sutherland, assistant secretary to the cabinet, machinery of government and democratic institutions, said Mr. Wernick was speaking from “a personal view.” However, he said Mr. Wernick’s comments are "broadly shared by people who look at issues around social inclusion, not just in Canada but around the world.”

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