The state of big tech regulation in Canada, from privacy to tax policy

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For years, Canadian government policy toward big tech companies was essentially a hands-off affair: getting in the way not only threatened to hurt the economy, but voters might rebel as well. But as foreign tech platforms such as Google and Facebook have grown, governments here and around the world have begun to seek out ways to rein in their outsized influence and power. Here, the Post’s Barbara Shecter breaks down the state of big tech regulation in Canada, from privacy to tax policy and everything in between.

What are the key issues?

The key areas where Canada is moving to regulate foreign tech platforms fall into four main buckets: harmful content such as hate speech; consumer and data privacy; taxation; and broadcasting/telecom and content. It involves a number of government officials, departments, and agencies including the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Department of Finance. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and the Canada Revenue Agency are also involved.

What about hate speech?

The high-profile ejection of former United States President Donald Trump from Twitter and other social media platforms sparked a major debate on how to police hate speech and prevent disinformation on social media while at the same time preserving freedom of speech and the right to political expression. The Canadian government has said it will soon introduce legislation that would make good on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge to force the tech platforms to promptly remove illegal content including hate speech. “Our goal is to table … legislation this winter on online harms,” a spokesperson for Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s office said Friday. The law, if passed, would require social media firms to monitor and eliminate illegal content including hate speech, terrorist propaganda, violent acts and child pornography. The department said the law also aims to respect freedom of speech.

What about digital taxation?

A few years ago, any mention of a “Netflix tax” sent consumers and voters into a tizzy and elected officials running for cover. Not anymore. The favourable tax status of foreign tech platforms is now squarely in the government’s sights. In the fall economic statement in November, finance minster Chrystia Freeland said the federal government intends to implement a “tax on corporations providing digital services” in Canada beginning Jan. 1, 2022. Canada has been working the OECD and more than 100 other countries on a co-ordinated approach to global tax reform that could include a taxing right for countries where multinational corporations are providing digital services to consumers — but there have been delays and Canada said it intends move ahead on its own with the new measures expected to increase federal revenues by $3.4 billion over five years. Canada also plans to begin requiring “non-resident vendors” supplying digital products and services to Canadian consumers — such as Netflix — to collect and remit sales tax (GST and HST).