Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s web regulations would "make Canada’s internet one of the most censored and surveilled in the democratic world," an advocacy group said Wednesday. Open Media of Vancouver launched a petition drive to counter any reintroduction of two cabinet bills that lapsed in the last Parliament, reported Blacklock's.
"Liberals are poised to push forward with their harmful internet censorship plans," Matthew Hatfield, campaign director for Open Media, wrote in a message to donors. "Our newly-elected government is cynically taking advantage of our political fatigue and frustration with the internet to try to trick the public."
Bill C-10 An Act To Amend The Broadcasting Act lapsed in the Senate communications committee. The bill proposed to have YouTube videos intended for private viewing regulated as public broadcasts by the CRTC.
"I am swamped with emails from people from all walks of life, especially young people, who don’t want this," Senator Michael MacDonald, chair of the committee, said in an earlier interview. "This bill is disturbing, and it is taking us down a rabbit hole on internet regulation."
The Trudeau Liberals, NDP, and Bloc said the bill would introduce needed internet regulation to protect Canadians from tech giants.
But the Conservatives see the bill as beyond repair and merely an attack on freedom of expression. The Liberals attempted to "shut down debate on Bill C-10," said Fort Saskatchewan MP Garnett Genuis before the summer recess.
Senator David Richards compared Bill C-10 to book burnings, adding the bill didn't require amendments but instead needed a "stake through the heart."
Guilbeault insisted the bill would not affect individuals, yet said accounts with "millions of viewers … generating a lot of money on social media" would be counted as broadcasters under the bill and could be subject to regulation. He did not specify a threshold number despite repeated questioning.
"What we want to do, this law should apply to people who are broadcasters or act like broadcasters. So if you have a YouTube channel with millions of viewers, and you're deriving revenues from that, then at some point, the CRTC will be asked to put a threshold.
"But we're talking about broadcasters here. We're not talking about everyday citizens posting stuff on their YouTube channel," said Guilbeault.
Cabinet, in a separate July 29 Technical Paper, proposed to appoint a chief internet censor called the Digital Safety Commissioner with powers to block websites, investigate anonymous complaints and conduct closed-door hearings into legal but hurtful comments deemed a threat to "democratic institutions."
Cabinet on June 23 also introduced Bill C-36, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code that would threaten $70,000 fines or house arrest for any internet publisher, blogger or social media user suspected of posting legal content promoting "detestation or vilification."
The RCMP on July 19 said the bill would "see more things through to charges" involving Facebook users and bloggers. The bill would also allow investigations into publishers from those who complain, including anonymous complaints.
Guilbeault said the bill aimed to create a safer internet.
"We have to use as many tools as possible to deal with this," said Guilbeault. "There is no silver bullet to deal with this."
Bill C-36 lapsed with the adjournment of the last Parliament. Cabinet said it would be reintroduced this fall.
The bill reads: "It is a discriminatory practice to communicate or cause to be communicated hate speech by means of the internet or other means of telecommunications in a context in which the hate speech is likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals based on a prohibited ground of discrimination."
Hate speech is already illegal under the criminal code.
Academics with the University of Calgary law faculty in a September 13 commentary said the legislation "could have a potentially sweeping impact on day to day expression online," including measures to block websites. "Website blocking is overreach and overbreadth," said the commentary The Federal Government’s Proposal To Address Online Harms: Explanation And Critique.
"The danger is there remains a significant grey area within which entirely legal content could be removed solely due to platform risk avoidance," said Critique. "A content moderator without legal training may resort to bias or heuristics rather than performing in-depth analysis of borderline cases where the decisions to remove the content rests on a contextual analysis."
The Trudeau Liberals reaffirmed their commitment to move ahead with Bill C-10 and C-36 when their 2021 election platform became public.