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B.C. government putting public-harms legislation on hold

GVBOT applauds the province's decision to pause work on Bill 12
B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma (left) and Premier David Eby announced earlier this year the introduction of public-harms legislation.

The B.C. government announced Tuesday morning it will put its controversial public-harms legislation on hold as it's working with tech giants to discuss the next steps.

The provincial government's recent introduction of Bill 12, the Public Health Accountability and Cost Recovery Act, has raised concerns and opposition from the B.C. business community.

If passed, Bill 12 grants the government authority to sue businesses that knowingly market, manufacture or sell products, services or by-products that are harmful to public health. The bill enables the province to recover associated costs incurred by the health-care system.

This could theoretically range from suing a beverage company that markets energy drinks filled with caffeine to kids, to tech companies that fail to put in sufficient safety measures to protect young people from toxic content or child exploitation.

“We’re pleased to share that Meta, Snap, TikTok and X have agreed to work collaboratively with the Government of British Columbia to move forward this important work. Together, we are forming the BC Online Safety Action Table,” the government said in a release.

“The province will place Bill 12 on hold as we convene the first meeting of the table to discuss the tangible steps we can take to help ensure British Columbians have safe, empowering experiences online."

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) said it applauds the province's decision to pause the work on Bill 12.  

“We are pleased to see the provincial government listening to the concerns of the business community and choosing to pause work on Bill 12," said Bridgitte Anderson, president and CEO of the GVBOT in a Tuesday statement.

She said the potential ramifications of Bill 12’s expansive interpretation, as summarized in several articles from B.C.’s legal community, were of serious concern to B.C. businesses. 

"We hope that the government chooses not to pursue Bill 12 in the future. Instead, we would welcome the opportunity to work with the government to develop measures that are well-targeted and effective, ensuring they protect British Columbians without causing unintended consequences," said Anderson.

In an open letter to Premiere David Eby, GVBOT raised concerns including about the parameters in Bill 12 that the organization said are not clear and appropriately delineated, and can inadvertently expose a wider spectrum of businesses to legal risk.

The Opposition BC United released a statement on Monday to ask the province to pause Bill 12, claiming that recent statements from more than 24 business associations, including the Business Council of B.C., the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, have underscored the potential negative impacts of Bill 12 on B.C. businesses.

“This bill, as it currently stands, threatens to impose unknown and unquantifiable legal risks and liabilities on our businesses without their input, evidenced by the widespread concerns over the overly broad and unspecified provisions of Bill 12," BC United said in a statement.

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