This now-controversial legislation was introduced last fall by Liberal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault. Guilbeault insisted that the Bill was intended to amend the Broadcasting Act to “level the playing field” between traditional broadcasters and online streaming companies.
By now you have probably heard of Bill C-10.
Specifically, his stated goal was to give the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) powers to regulate internet broadcasters in the same way it does for conventional radio and television broadcasters, including the ability to compel foreign streaming media services to contribute to the Canadian Media Fund for the creation of Canadian content and to force these companies to adjust their user-preference algorithms to give greater prominence to Canadian content.
While this may all seem like a good idea, I have questioned their method of attempting to apply antiquated broadcasting legislation to the internet. Limiting access of foreign broadcasters to the Canadian market may have made sense at the beginning of the era of television, but does it really make sense to limit the access of individual Canadians to what they want to watch or listen over the internet? Does it make any sense to limit what individual Canadians share with the world over the internet via platforms like Facebook or YouTube?
Well, included in the original version of the legislation were sections ensuring that these new regulations would not apply to individual Canadians posting to their personal social media pages.
Inexplicably, however, one of these sections (section 4.1) was pulled from the Bill by the government during the review at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which has been studying this legislation. As a member of the committee, I am among the members of parliament pushing back and challenging the government and Minister Guilbeault to explain the change.
While section 2.1 remains in the Bill and the government declares that this section makes clear that individuals will not be regulated, the consequences of removing section 4.1 are that the government will give the CRTC the power to regulate what Canadians post to their social media pages, by regulating the social media companies we use.
In response to questions my colleagues and I have raised, Minister Guilbeault has attacked us, calling us ‘extremists’ and ‘spreaders of misinformation’. Many Canadians have watched Minister Guilbeault in media interviews where he has failed to explain his Bill or to adequately answer questions from journalists.
Even though Minister Guilbeault insisted for two weeks that protection for individual Canadians was ‘crystal clear’ in his legislation, he has now introduced a new amendment to make it ‘crystal clear’ that our individual online content would not be regulated as broadcasting.
Already, internet and legal experts have said this latest amendment is inadequate.
University of Ottawa law professor Dr. Michael Geist, who also holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce, has been a vocal opponent of what Minister Guilbeault is doing, calling the Trudeau government “the most anti-Internet government in Canadian history.”
I have argued, and will continue to argue, that granting the CRTC and the Heritage Minister the ability to regulate what Canadians post online is a dangerous move. Even if, as Minister Guilbeault insists, he does not want to regulate his uncle’s cat videos, ensuring that neither he nor some bureaucrat at the CRTC could ever wield such power is important.
With this kind of power, how could Canadians be sure that Minister Guilbeault or some future minister won’t quietly exercise this authority to limit online criticism of their government? How could Canadians be sure that government is not manipulating the algorithms of social media companies to limit the expression of ideas and policies contrary to their own?
Freedom of expression is fundamental to a free society. Despite Minister Guilbeault’s altruistic claims that he only wants to protect Canadian artists and preserve French-language media, to do these things while presenting even a hint of infringing on our freedom of speech and expression online is too high a price to pay.
I believe that promotion of Canadian art, culture, and creation is important. I believe that this can be done effectively while also permitting Canadians to make their own choices online and to express themselves online without the meddling of government or government agencies.
Bill C-10 started as a mediocre effort but has become an unmitigated disaster of public policy. I commit to all Canadians that I will continue to stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms while also working to promote Canadian creators.
I, and my Conservative colleagues, will oppose Bill C-10 and the threat it represents.
(Photo of Parliament Hill by festivio on Pixabay. Photo of Scott Aitchison courtesy of Scott Aitchison.)
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