Letter on Trade Negotiations to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

25 September 2018

Hon. Chrystia Freeland
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Freeland,

As Canada negotiates NAFTA, we ask you to be vigilant in protecting victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. We are concerned that there is pressure by technology companies to include immunity for internet intermediaries in NAFTA’s digital trade chapter.

Until recently in the United States, section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act held that internet intermediaries couldn’t be held liable for third party content, even if they hosted content they knew was illegal. This provision gave legal immunity to websites that facilitated sex trafficking, like which hosted and profited from ads for sex trafficking.

This past March, the U.S. passed legislation to amend section 230 to remove immunity from internet intermediaries, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (SESTA).

We have heard reports that provisions similar to section 230 are being considered in NAFTA negotiations.

The technology lobby group the Electronic Frontier Foundation is advocating for this immunity to be included in NAFTA. It noted in January 2018 that since this kind of immunity isn’t afforded under Canadian law, if such a provision were included in NAFTA, Canadian law and legal precedent would be required to change to conform:

  • “The difficulty with the inclusion of Section 230 style safe harbors in NAFTA is that it would either require Canada and Mexico to change their law, or it would require the provision to be watered down in order to become compatible with their existing law—which would make its inclusion pointless.… For Canada, in particular, strengthening legal protection for Internet platforms could help roll back the precedent set in the Google v. Equustek case, in which the Canadian Supreme Court required Google to globally de-index a website that purportedly infringed Canadian trade secret rights.”

We urge you not to allow section 230-like provisions to be included in NAFTA. If websites knowingly facilitate grave human rights violations such as sex trafficking, they should be held liable for these actions.


Julia Beazley
Director of Public Policy

Author: Julia Beazley