The federal budget watchdog says it will cost $201 million over five years to maintain the bureaucracy to be created by the Liberal government’s Online Harms Act.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) released the legislative costing note on July 4, examining projected expenses to operate the Digital Safety Commission, the Digital Safety Ombudsperson, and the Digital Safety Office.

The total dollar figure, which covers fiscal years 2024-2025 to 2028-2029, was obtained using preliminary estimates from Heritage Canada, which projects a total staff of 330 full-time employees.

The estimated cost does not include fines or regulatory charges which the new office could level on service providers.

The budget watchdog says it did not attempt to calculate those revenues, saying little is known about the cost recovery mechanism to be established.

“There is a high degree of uncertainty in the revenues that will be generated since it depends on the willingness of outside enterprises to follow the requirements set out by the Commission and the Online Harms Act,” the PBO adds.

Ottawa has faced hurdles getting big tech companies to cooperate, with Meta cutting Canadians’ access to news links on its platforms in response to the Online News Act.

In a July 4 post on Substack, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said she had requested the PBO analysis regarding the cost of Bill C-63.

She argued that the lack of a stated cost recovery mechanism “means that Canadian taxpayers will likely be stuck footing the bill for a massive bureaucracy that will allow big tech companies to negotiate favorable terms with non-elected regulators behind closed doors.”

The budget watchdog says the operating cost may be higher if the Online Harms Act bureaucracy decides to hire external resources such as consultants or lawyers after reaching its full capacity.

Heritage Canada did not respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment by publication time.

Online Safety

The government tabled the Online Harms Act (Bill C-63) in February to “promote the online safety of persons in Canada.”

The role of the Digital Safety Commission described in the bill is to administer and enforce the act, including with social media companies, whereas the ombudsperson would provide support to social media users. The Digital Safety Office is expected to support both entities.

Along with creating this new online safety bureaucracy, Bill C-63 seeks to create a new hate crime offense punishable up to life imprisonment.

Individuals who believe they are victims of online hate would also be able to file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In the case of a violation, a fine of up to $50,000 could be handed to the culprit, along with being ordered to pay up to $20,000 in compensation to the victim.

The bill also has a provision to arrest and place someone into a peace bond if there are reasonable grounds to believe the individual could commit a hate crime or distribute hate propaganda.

The Online Harms Act also seeks to better protect children online, with provisions requiring the takedown of child exploitation content within 24 hours.

Bill C-63’s second reading is currently in progress in the House of Commons, with major speeches from MPs having been delivered on June 7.

Justice Minister Arif Virani, the bill’s sponsor, said the issue is personal for him, linking several attacks which killed Muslims in Canada in recent years to online radicalization. “Online hatred has real-world consequences,” he said.

Conservatives have criticized the bill as an attack on freedom of expression. In response to Mr. In Virani’s remarks, MP Rempel Garner said that the bill has “received widespread condemnation from groups of all political stripes because it forces Canadians to make unnecessary trade-offs between their security and their charter rights.”

NDP House Leader Peter Julian criticized the government for delays in introducing the bill. He also said the legislation has a “major flaw.”

“Children are often profoundly harmed by hateful content promoted by secret algorithms, yet there is nothing in this bill about algorithm transparency,” he said.

The Bloc Québécois for its part has recommended the bill be split in two, by separating the clauses related to the takedown of child pornography or the sharing of intimate content, and those related to the issue of hate speech and the Criminal Code.

“What is currently happening on the Internet and online is unacceptable,” said Bloc MP Claude DeBellefeuille.

The suggestion to split the bill was also raised by over a dozen civil society groups last May.
Bill C-63 has received some international attention in March, with Elon Musk, billionaire owner of the social media platform X, wading in. Mr. Musk called the bill “insane” for handing down life sentences for “speech crimes.”

“It looks like you agree that we all have a responsibility to protect free expression by stopping the worst kinds of hate speech,” Mr. Virani said in response to Mr. Musk on X.