Proposed Digital Safety Commission to Cost $200 Million

As the federal government advances the Online Harms Act, budget estimates reveal a $200 million expense over five years to establish new regulatory bodies.

The federal government’s initiative to combat harmful online content through the proposed Online Harms Act is projected to incur significant costs, with the establishment of new regulatory bodies estimated at $200 million over the next five years. This financial projection, provided by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO), outlines the costs associated with staffing the Digital Safety Commission, a new entity aimed at regulating social media companies.
The legislation, spearheaded by Justice Minister Arif Virani, aims to create a more accountable online environment by mandating social media platforms to limit the spread of harmful content. This includes the introduction of a Digital Safety Ombudsperson and a Digital Safety Office, where Canadians can voice their concerns about online harms.
According to the PBO’s report, the Heritage Department expects these new entities to be fully operational with approximately 300 employees. The government’s staffing and budget estimates for these agencies are informed by the structure and operations of other Canadian and international regulatory bodies.
The Online Harms Act, introduced in February, has sparked a lively debate across political lines. While the Liberal government asserts that the act is crucial for holding social media giants to account, the Opposition Conservatives have expressed concerns about the potential expansion of bureaucracy this new framework might entail.
The creation of the Digital Safety Commission is envisioned as a pivotal step in enforcing regulations that would compel social media companies to take a proactive role in mitigating the spread of harmful content online. The act also emphasizes the importance of having a dedicated Ombudsperson to whom citizens can report their grievances, thereby enhancing transparency and accountability in digital spaces.
As Canada moves forward with this legislation, the cost and structure of the proposed regulatory framework will be under close scrutiny. Stakeholders from various sectors, including technology, civil liberties, and government oversight, are keenly observing how these changes will balance regulatory oversight with the preservation of free speech and innovation in the digital realm.
This substantial financial commitment highlights the government’s prioritization of digital safety, reflecting a broader global trend towards more stringent regulation of online platforms. As the debate continues, the effectiveness of this investment in reducing online harms without overburdening the tech industry or stifling digital freedoms remains a key question for policymakers and the public alike.
The standoff reached a critical point when the government presented what Legal Aid Alberta describes as an ultimatum that compromises the agency’s autonomy, effectively placing it under the direct financial control of the Justice Minister. Ryan Callioux, chairman of Legal Aid Alberta’s board, stressed the importance of maintaining the agency’s independence, warning that any compromise on this front could significantly deteriorate the justice system.
Justice Minister Mickey Amery defended the government’s stance by highlighting that Legal Aid Alberta’s budget has nearly doubled over the past nine years to $110 million, despite no increase in client numbers. He describes this trend as “grossly unsustainable,” proposing a continuation of the current funding model under a new agreement that emphasizes enhanced transparency and accountability. The government has also extended an interim grant of $27.5 million to the agency.
Legal Aid Alberta traditionally receives funding from the federal government, the province, and revenues generated from the interest on funds held in trust by lawyers. This model, overseen by the Law Society of Alberta, ensures that clients retain basic legal rights, such as choosing their own lawyers. However, the current five-year agreement expired on Monday, and attempts to renew it have been fraught since discussions began in March 2023.
On the eve of the long weekend, Legal Aid Alberta was informed of a shift in funding strategy by Alberta Justice, proposing that provincial contributions be managed through yearly grants directly controlled by the Justice Minister. This arrangement, according to Edmonton criminal defense lawyer Paul Moreau, would grant the minister excessive control over the agency’s finances, potentially affecting its ability to manage complex cases and remain impartial, especially in litigation involving government entities.
The proposed changes could also impact the agency’s capacity to hire third-party experts and pay for essential services, such as court transcripts. Despite assurances from Amery that the Law Society would still participate in governance, the overall independence of Legal Aid Alberta appears at risk.
The implications of this funding impasse are far-reaching. Mark Cherrington, a justice and human rights advocate, supports the need for a streamlined approach to legal aid that prioritizes legal over political considerations. However, the imminent suspension of services by Legal Aid Alberta, including duty counsel for first-time court appearances, threatens to exacerbate court backlogs and delay justice for many, potentially increasing costs significantly as the government may have to hire private lawyers to fulfill constitutional obligations.
This controversial move by the UCP government has sparked criticism from various quarters, including Opposition New Democrat justice critic Irfan Sabir, who views it as a broader attempt by the government to exert control over public institutions. The situation remains tense as stakeholders anticipate the impact on access to justice for Alberta’s most vulnerable.

In response to Canada's Online News Act and Meta (Facebook and Instagram) removing access to Canada's local news from their platforms, Anchor Media Inc encourages you to get your news directly from your trusted source by bookmarking this site and downloading the Rogue Radio App. Send your news tips, story ideas, pictures, and videos to info@anchormedia.ca.

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Staff Writer

In response to Canada's Online News Act and Meta (Facebook and Instagram) removing access to local news from their platforms, Anchor Media Inc encourages you to get your news directly from your trusted source by bookmarking this site and downloading the Rogue Radio App. Send your news tips, story ideas, pictures, and videos to info@anchormedia.ca

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