Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the motion put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Winnipeg North. I applaud his efforts on behalf of Canadians in bringing this to the attention of the House and moving to take an important step by recommending we take action and move forward in abolishing hate and hateful messages on the information highway.
It is clearly not an easy aspect to consider as the Internet is travelled and is accessible from anywhere in the world. It is important subject matter and an important area for us to be concerned about as our children increasingly participate in and use the Internet and computers generally.
We must think not only of Canadians. Our messages travel around the world. We must think about people in other countries as well. Canada is a society that has grown and developed a very important ethic of tolerance, an ethic in which we disagree with those who tend to promote hate. We would like this concept of tolerance that we have developed in Canada to be spread around the world through media like the Internet through approaches like the worldwide web.
Let us keep in mind at the moment that the problem is relatively small. At this point only a tiny proportion of the 5,000 Usenet discussion groups have any problems that might come under this concept of hateful material.
Nevertheless, it is important because of the rapidity with which the Internet is expanding, which it is estimated now reaches some 40 million people around the world, that we start to move in this area. In doing so, I think it is important to first recognize that there are areas under the current telecommunications legislation and regulations where offensive and unsolicited content or messages can be dealt with.
For example, under section 8.2 of Bell Canada's terms of service which sets out the basic rights and obligations of telephone companies and their subscribers, customers are prohibited from using the public telephone network in a way that is contrary to law for the purpose of making annoying or offensive calls. Originators of such calls, hate or racist messages on a telephone answering machine can be prosecuted. The public can file complaints with the telephone company or the CRTC who will pursue these investigations.
Section 41 of the Telecommunications Act authorizes the CRTC to take regulatory steps to protect consumers against possible abuses from unsolicited telecommunications, computerized solicitations or junk faxes which may contain offensive content. Under this section, the commission introduced regulations restricting the use of automatic dialling and announcing devices for the purpose of broadcasting commercial messages, as well as various safeguards to protect consumers against unsolicited messages such as call blocking. While not intended specifically to control the dissemination of offensive content, these regulations can nonetheless be used to discourage abuses in this area.
Section 36 of the Telecommunications Act gives the commission some latitude in allowing telecommunications carriers to take into account the content or the message it carries over its facilities.
A case in point is the commission's approval of a number of safeguards to protect consumers, particularly children, against unwanted exposure over the 900 number telephone service which delivers audiotext services, including so-called adult entertainment.
The commission granted the telephone companies some discretion to refuse to provide billing and collection service to certain 900 service operations which in the opinion of the telephone company offer a program or service which does not comply with the program content guidelines approved by the commission. This forces the service provider to use an alternative billing method such as credit card billing, prepayment or some other approach which provides greater control by consumers over the use of the service. The CRTC has also provided a number of other protection measures, including the provision of call blocking of 900 service upon request.
Consequently, in situations where the material is not illegal under the Criminal Code there may still be levers to block, control or limit its dissemination.
There is of course no reason to believe that the Criminal Code itself cannot be used on the information highway, although to date it has not been so applied, but it remains there. It is an area
which as in other forms of communication, print media, et cetera, can certainly potentially be used.
Under the information highway advisory council there are some initiatives already under way. The advisory council, which we appointed last year, has been looking at this area along with a number of other areas in terms of how Canada should have solid initiatives and policies in the area of the information highway.
At its most recent meeting on April 21 the council brought forward for third reading a four-pronged approach to the limitation or attack on any hate messages which might be found on the information highway. The four-pronged approach includes attention to law enforcement in this area, to the development of a code of ethics as it applies to the information highway, and also education and public awareness. This area is growing very rapidly in use. It is important for school children and people in communities and for all Canadians to develop an awareness of what the media is, how it works, and the limitations and advantages of it.
Another approach is the technological approach. It is rather interesting that the technology to block, monitor or interfere with hate messages and hate propaganda is something which is coming. It may provide users of the information highway with approaches that will be very useful in the future.
With regard to the already existing legislative measures, I would like to talk about four points briefly.
Criminal Code sections 318 to 320 may apply. Also section 13 of the human rights act can apply. One problem is that computers on the Internet do not recognize international boundaries. It would therefore be rather difficult unless there are common international standards, regulations or laws to control it when it originates from other countries. There may be potential for bilateral and multilateral arrangements. This is something that could and should be pursued.
The second prong of the approach suggested by the Information Highway Advisory Council deals with development of a code of ethics. Other areas of communication, for example many of the established media industries such as broadcasting, cable television and sound recording have successfully adopted voluntary guidelines to deal with offensive content. We feel it is advisable to move in this area on the information highway.
The third prong of the council's strategy deals with public awareness, an important initiative which we need to undertake. It also deals with technological approaches which can be used to block transmission to allow schools and parents to filter content coming into homes and schools. I think we will see these sorts of filters more widely used. These can be very helpful in allowing individual Canadians to control access and content coming to them.
These sorts of initiatives are coming from the Information Highway Advisory Council. This is a grassroots move and is strongly supported by my hon. colleague for Winnipeg North. The motion is an important step forward. I support it and think we can move forward together and create an electronic world which is not only exciting, but is also one which is ethical.