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Advisory panel calls for Liberals’ online hate law to cover Airbnb, video games

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OTTAWA — An expert panel tasked with helping to shape a federal bill to curb online hate suggests it cover Airbnb, the vacation rental booking site, as well as video games and even private communications online.

The advisory panel believes a future online hate law should have a broad scope covering not just Twitter and Facebook but smaller online platforms, including crowdfunding apps, according to reports of their discussions posted online.

Many experts on the panel also supported bringing private online conversations “under the scope of the legislative framework.”

The Liberal government has said it wants to bring in an online hate bill so that harmful content, such as racist and antisemitic abuse online, is swiftly removed by platforms.

Earlier this year, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez appointed the expert advisory group on online safety to provide counsel on a framework for such a law.

In discussion papers for the group, the Heritage Department indicated it is not inclined to regulate services such as Uber, Airbnb and Peloton. The department suggested they be “excluded … as their primary purpose is not to enable communication between persons per se, but to arrange transportation, or rent accommodations, or participate in fitness classes.”

Many experts on the panel suggested a wider reach, however, and wanted to “incorporate all entities that communicate online.” Some said there is “justification to look more widely” including “some interactive services like Airbnb and gaming platforms,” records of their meetings show.

A few expert advisers added that “it would be hard to assert generalized obligations to act responsibly on some platforms (e.g., social media companies) but not others who operate on the same level of the tech stack (e.g., Airbnb, video-gaming platforms).”

The report of their meetings said some panel members thought “a broad definition would help address evolving/emerging technologies to help future-proof the legislation.”

It said members “highlighted that a lot of times a high level of harmful content, such as terrorist content or child pornography are shared in private communications instead of on public forums — and that excluding these types of communications would leave a lot of harmful content on the table.”

Airbnb, based in San Francisco, said communications on its platform are between people booking lodgings and landlords, such as asking questions about whether dogs are allowed.

It said it has an extensive and strict anti-discrimination policy and delists people who do not adhere to it, as well as those linked to extremist groups.

A spokesman for Airbnb said the site has banned the accounts of dozens of users with links to white nationalist groups, including those identified as members of Iron March, a neo-Nazi forum, following disclosure of the forum’s membership.

“Discrimination of any kind — including bias, prejudice and racism — have no place on our platform or in our community in Canada and around the world, and we have strong policies in place on these issues that align with our inclusive values,” said Nathan Rotman, of Airbnb Canada.

“According to the government, this bill is meant to regulate social media platforms, not platforms like Airbnb.”

In the United States, Harvard Business School researchers exploring racial discrimination at Airbnb found that applications from guests with distinctly African-American names were about 16 per cent less likely to be accepted than guests with distinctly white names.

Bernie Farber, who is chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network and a member of the 12-person panel, said Airbnb should fall within the scope of the regulations aimed at curbing online hate, because discussions take place on its platform.

The government also asked its advisory panel to consider how deep the law should go.

“Should top layer interactive services that are not social media platforms — like, video-gaming platforms and streamers, or crowdfunding platforms — also be included?” said government papers giving topics for their deliberations.

Some panel members said a broader scope would include entities that are successful in the recruitment of violent extremists who adapt quickly “and have been moving to video game services, file sharing sites, and live audio applications.”

Laura Scaffidi, a spokeswoman for Rodriguez, said “the expert advisory group on online safety is mandated to provide the government with advice on how to address harmful content online” and noted the 12 people on the panel have a “broad range” of views and experience.

“We look forward to the group’s continued work and final summary,” she added.

“We are going to take the time we need to get this right.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2022.

 

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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Russia closing CBC's Moscow bureau in retaliation for Canada banning Russian state TV – CBC.ca

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Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Wednesday it was closing the Moscow bureau of the CBC and withdrawing visas and accreditation from the public broadcaster’s journalists, after Canada banned Russian state TV station Russia Today.

“With regret we continue to notice open attacks on the Russian media from the countries of the so-called collective West who call themselves civilized,” ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told reporters.

“A decision has been taken to make retaliatory, I underscore retaliatory, measures in relation to the actions of Canada: the closure of the Moscow bureau of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, including the annulation of the accreditations and visas of their journalists.”

 Zakharova said Ottawa had chosen what she cast as a “Russophobic” path, including censorship of the media.

The Russian Embassy in Ottawa confirmed the development.

CBC is aware of the development and is gathering information.

Russia last month sanctioned 61 Canadians, a list that included a number of CBC employees as well as other Canadian journalists.

Canada on Tuesday introduced a bill in the Senate that will ban Russian President Vladimir Putin and about 1,000 members of his government and military from entering the country, as it continues to ratchet up sanctions over Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

In March, Putin signed a law imposing a prison term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military, prompting some Western media organizations to pull their reporters out of Russia.

Russian officials do not use the word “invasion” and say Western media have provided an excessively partial narrative of the war in Ukraine that ignores Russia’s concerns about the enlargement of NATO and alleged persecution of Russian-speakers.

The CBC news bureau in Moscow, pictured March 2020, is in the historic Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building on the banks of the Moscow River. (CBC)

Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly scolded the West for what he calls an undemocratic crackdown on Russian state media organizations that he says provided an alternative to Western narratives.

Putin casts the war as an inevitable confrontation with the United States, which he accuses of threatening Russia by meddling in its backyard and enlarging the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance.

Ukraine says it is fighting an imperial-style land grab and that Putin’s claims of genocide and persecution of Russian-speakers are nonsense.

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A report on wildfire in Lytton, B.C., says more community fireproofing needed

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VANCOUVER — A wildfire that destroyed the British Columbia village of Lytton couldn’t have been stopped, even with an area-wide emergency response, says a new report.

Published this month by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the report says scientists found the root cause was “easily ignitable structures and homes, and not just a wildfire problem.”

Even the best possible fire response would have been “overwhelmed” because at least 20 buildings were fully engulfed within 80 minutes and would have required at least 60 fire trucks to contain, it says.

Alan Westhaver, a wildland urban fire consultant and co-author of the report, said there was nothing the firefighters could have done to prevent the spread once it had started.

“It’s an overwhelming amount of fire in a very short span of time,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

“Firefighting is important. It’s going to be critical, but we have to change the conditions around our homes so that fewer homes ignite.”

Westhaver said there needs to be more co-ordination between governments, agencies, homeowners, corporate landowners and private businesses to help prevent future disasters.

“Everyone in the community needs to work together and do their share and deal with issues on their property because fire does not stop at property lines.”

The report includes 33 specific recommendations for ways to mitigate wildfire risk, while reducing exposure and vulnerabilities within so-called home ignition zones.

They include mandatory mowing of tall grass and weeds around residential areas and evacuation routes, and development changes like minimum distances between buildings. Itwould mean at least an eight-metre distance between one-storey structures and 13 metres for two-storey buildings.

The report also says flammable objects such as firewood should be separated from main buildings.

Wildfire embers are often responsible for starting small spot fires within communities, so making homes more resistant to fires should be a priority, Westhaver added.

Two people were killed in the Lytton fire and most of the village burned to the ground on June 30 last year in the middle of a heat wave that marked the hottest day ever recorded in Canada at 49.6 C in Lytton.

Westhaver said the report findings should also be used to help other communities prepare for wildfires.

“Lytton was an extreme event, but it wasn’t exceptional. The disaster followed a very familiar pattern that we see at virtually all other major wildland urban fire disasters,” he said.

“Wildland fires are inevitable, but wildland urban fire disasters are not.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Regular travel and public health measures can’t coexist: Canadian Airport Council

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OTTAWA — International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up that people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn’t physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.

The council blames COVID-19 protocols and has called on the federal government to do away with random tests and public health questions at customs to ease the serious delays passengers face when they arrive in Canada.

The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people as they arrive than it did before the pandemic, said the council’s interim president Monette Pasher. That was fine when people weren’t travelling, but now it’s become a serious problem.

“We’re seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel,” she said.

The situation is particularly bad at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held in their planes Sunday waiting for their turn to get in line for customs.

Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, other times it’s over an hour, Pasher said.

Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a lengthy process, she said, and the space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 tests, she said, especially since tests are rarely required in the community.

“Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can’t coexist without a significant pressure and strain on our system,” Pasher said.

The government is aware of the frustrating lineups at airports, a statement from the transport minister’s office said.

“Current health measures in place are based on the advice of public health experts to protect Canadians. We will continue to base our measures and adjustments on their expert advice,” the statement read.

The ministry is working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to post more screening officers at checkpoints, the minister’s office said, and the agency is working on hiring even more.

The government will not ask airlines to cut back their flight schedules, the statement noted.

Between May 1 and May 7, about 1.3 per cent of 1,920 travellers tested at airports were COVID-19 positive.

For comparison, 3.46 per cent were positive between April 1 and April 9, though significantly more tests were performed during that time.

Public health measures have scaled up and down over the course of the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. Right now, they are the least restrictive they have been in months, with vaccinated travellers tested only on a random basis.

The requirements are out of step with peer countries, said Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman. She said she wants to know why the Canadian government is acting on advice that is different to that of other countries.

“We’re effectively taking the government at their word that they are receiving advice and that they are acting on it, but they haven’t shared any of that with the Canadian public,” she said.

The lengthy delays at the airports send a negative message to travellers and she worries about the impact it will have on Canadian tourism as the industry struggles to get on its feet this season after the pandemic lull.

“It tells you to go elsewhere, that we’re not open for business,” she said.

On Monday, several industry groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, pleaded their case for fewer COVID-19 restrictions at the House of Commons transport committee.

“These are costing our economy deeply and are hurting our international reputation as a top destination for tourism, international conferences and sporting events,” Robin Guy, the chamber’s senior director for transportation policy, told the committee.

The witnesses urged the government to review their COVID-19 regulations at the border and do away with those that are no longer necessary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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