Ontario plans new legislation to safeguard children from online harm

May 9, 2024 | News, Provincial News

The Ontario government plans to introduce legislation to protect children’s privacy by limiting dangerous online content and strengthening standards for data sharing.

Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery, Todd McCarthy, announced Ontario’s intentions to table the Strengthening Cyber Security and Building Trust in the Public Sector Act on May 9, 2024.

He said the proposed act will be a “comprehensive approach to strengthening cyber security and privacy protections in schools, children’s aid societies, hospitals and, indeed, across the public sector.”

Child restrictions and awareness of potential online harms are important as children have been accessing the internet at a younger age than ever before, McCarthy said.

He said the government will work with schools, media experts and law enforcement to “combat the misuse of data created by children and youth engaging in schools and children’s age societies.”

Future regulations from the act could be age-appropriate standards for technology used at schools and increased restrictions to avoid predatory marketing and data sharing from third-party sources, McCarthy said.

This announcement comes one day after the Ontario Provincial Police announced 64 people were charged in a province-wide internet child exploitation investigation titled Project Aquatic.

The OPP said the staggering numbers seen in Project Aquatic reflect the growing online harms children are being exposed to in Ontario.

Associate Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, Signy Arnason, said child sexual abuse material is seen constantly online and her agency sends 20,000 removal notices to host websites every day.

“When a child is being sexually abused, technology is likely being used to facilitate the ongoing harm,” Signy said. “Survivors of child sexual abuse material have repeatedly said how important it is to get the images and videos of their abuse off the internet.”

Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, said the Project Aquatic announcement was a “great tragedy,” and shows the need for further safeguards on online child protection.

“We know it’s critically important to understand the connection of online safety and how to stay cyber safe,” he said.

He said students are now learning about cyber security and password safety in schools as of this year, but more work is to be done.

“Today we’re also announcing our intent to bring forth all social media executives and tech industry experts, along with law enforcement, to meet with the government with an aim to crack down on cyber crimes,” Lecce said.

He said the province will continue to create legislation to safeguard children and make sure they are “safe in schools and across our society.”