The Trudeau Liberals intend to censor the internet this fall through two pieces of legislation within the first 100 days of their new mandate. Parliamentary debate is expected to raise questions on the role of government in regulating the online behaviour of Canadians.
Bill C-10 An Act To Amend The Broadcasting Act lapsed in the Senate communications committee of the previous Parliament. The bill proposed to have YouTube videos intended for private viewing regulated as public broadcasts by the CRTC. The arts community strongly supports the legislation, but critics raised freedom of speech concerns.
Opposition MPs amended C-10, and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet called for it and other bills from the previous Parliament to have further debate following concerns the previous Liberal mandate excused the COVID pandemic to usurp parliamentary debate.
Introduced on June 23 – the last day of Parliament before the summer recess – Bill C-36, An Act To Amend The Criminal Code, threatened $70,000 fines or house arrest for any internet publisher, blogger or social media user suspected of posting legal content promoting "detestation or vilification."
It did not receive any debate in Parliament, though a midsummer consultation paper provided additional details on how Ottawa would regulate such content.
The online harms bill and discussion paper proposed two new federal regulators – a digital-safety commissioner and a digital recourse council – to oversee new rules related to five types of harmful content. They include child sexual exploitation, terrorist content, content inciting violence, hate speech and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
The legislation and discussion paper received little attention owing to the federal election.
University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist raised several concerns with the online harms bill, condemning Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault before on C-10 and C-36.
Geist is the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law. He wrote: "The proposed approach does not strike an appropriate balance between addressing online harms and safeguarding freedom of expression."
Geist warned the online harms bill provides political cover for undemocratic regimes and invokes Canadian laws to justify curbing freedom of expression online, reported the Globe and Mail.
"The government should be asking a simple question with respect to many of its proposals: Would Canadians be comfortable with the same measures being implemented in countries such as China, Saudi Arabia or Iran.
"If the answer is no [as I argue it should be], the government should think twice before risking its reputation as a leader in freedom of expression," wrote Geist. "The risk of overbroad or overzealous enforcement is very real."
The Liberal platform also campaigned on mandating digital platforms that generate Facebook and Google ad revenues from their publication share a portion of their revenues with other Canadian news outlets.
The Trudeau Liberals claimed it would "level the playing field between global platforms and Canadian news outlets" to pursue "collective negotiation."
According to the Globe and Mail, Guilbeault was not available to comment on the status of the promised bills.
Conservative MP and heritage critic Alain Rayes said with news of a cabinet shuffle unknown and permitting a new heritage minister, he would be surprised if the Trudeau Liberals delivered on these promises within 100 days.
"They haven't moved too quickly in the past," he said, hopeful they would listen to the concerns about C-10 before reintroducing it, though he has not formed his stance on either yet.
NDP MP and heritage critic Heather McPherson said her party strongly supported C-10 last Parliament on the principle of protecting Canadians from hate speech.
"It's going to be an interesting piece of legislation to look at. It's desperately needed," she said, referring to recent examples of hate directed toward Muslim women. "We know that a lot of this real-life hate and violence starts online."
News Media Canada president and CEO Paul Deegan lobbied on behalf of the bailout press to endorse cabinet censorship of the internet. News Media Canada called itself the nation's "most precious guardian" of free speech.
He proposed the Department of Canadian Heritage extends censorship to critics who use legal but hurtful words against media.
"This is not about limiting democratic expression," wrote Deegan in a submission to the Department of Canadian Heritage. "It is about protecting it and its most precious guardians, journalists. And it is about ensuring all publishers including internet intermediaries are held accountable for harmful content."
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