The Trudeau Liberals released their 2021 election platform on Wednesday, renewing their commitment to move ahead with Bills C-10 and C-36.
Michael Geist is the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society, who tweeted on September 1: "There is an obvious more of the same - C-10, C-11, C-36, online harms, newspaper support all coming back. No indication of a willingness to re-assess positions."
Cabinet on June 23 introduced Bill C-36, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code, that threatens Facebook, Twitter and YouTube users suspected of posting content that promotes "detestation or vilification" with house arrest or $70,000 fines. The heritage department promised public consultation on the bill.
The Department of Justice in a June 23 Backgrounder to Bill C-36 said it "would apply to public communications by individual users on the internet, including on social media, on personal websites and in mass emails," blog posts, online news sites, "operators of websites that primarily publish their own content" and user comment sections.
Bill C-11, An Act to enact the Consumer Privacy Protection Act and the Personal Information and Data Protection Tribunal Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, was a missed opportunity to show genuine concern about privacy and data governance, according to the National Post.
The author continues: "The proposed legislation serves as evidence that the government is firmly under the spell of the surveillance giants’ corporate interests, even when those interests undermine our privacy regulators, personal autonomy, human rights and democracy. Canada is a democracy — not a corporatocracy — and we need our lawmakers to enact laws to reflect that."
"Further to more on the same, the priorities are again Internet regulation [over] privacy. C-10 and online harms promised within 100 days," wrote Geist. "No promise on the timing of privacy reform (C-11), which languished after the introduction and was not a government priority."
He added: "The current government consultations on everything from online harms to news to copyright are clearly just theatre. The Liberal platform already says what they’re going to do."
"What is the point of the consultations then?" wrote Geist.
On August 4, Geist called out Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault for his “remarkable tweet that should heighten concerns about Bill C-10," and on "forthcoming online harms legislation, and the government’s intent with respect to free speech."
Guilbeault suggested over Twitter that the public anger over Bill C-10 was a matter of "public opinion being manipulated at scale through a deliberate campaign of misinformation by commercial interests that would prefer to avoid the same regulatory oversight applied to broadcast media." Sixty-two percent of Canadians fear federal regulation of the internet will curb lawful speech, according to a July 5 survey by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.
The Trudeau Liberals would treat all user-generated content as a "program" subject to CRTC regulation, despite mounting public criticism and concern about the implications for free speech. "While the tech companies have remained relatively silent, Canadians have been speaking out," wrote Geist.
Geist said the intense Bill C-10 debate left him angrier than the tweet. "First, the conspiracy theory amplified by Guilbeault is plainly wrong and itself quite clearly misinformation," he added. "The concerns regarding the bill have been backed by law professors, experts, Justice Ministers, former CRTC chairs, and hundreds of others."
Former vice-chair of the CRTC Peter Menzies once again came out in strong opposition to the Trudeau Liberals' Bill-C10, calling a bill a violation "of the rights of ordinary citizens."
"It creates two classes of communicators in Canada, government-approved and non-government approved. And government-approved will get better access and be dominant, and the government-unapproved won't."
Geist added: "With the government insisting that the CRTC should have the power to regulate the content of Canadians’ social media feeds through discoverability requirements, it is worrying that Guilbeault cites with approval an article that links regulating speech and political criticism."
"The ease with which a government minister labels criticism and public dissent as misinformation for political gain is deeply troubling given that the same minister is planning extensive new speech and Internet regulations," he wrote.
Senator David Richards compared Bill C-10 to book burnings, saying that the controversial censorship bill didn't need to be amended but needed a "stake through the heart."
"If the public needed yet another reason to be concerned about the government’s motivation for Bill C-10, Guilbeault just provided it," adding, "he is set to introduce a bill that purports to deal with misinformation, yet just used his own Twitter feed to traffic in it."
"Bill C-10 is not designed to address misinformation, but the fact that Guilbeault seems to think it could help address the issue represents a giant red flag that cannot be ignored,” writes Geist. He hopes the federal government starts over on Bill C-10 as he cannot vest responsibility for the online harms bill in Guilbeault.
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