Days after the government removed legal safeguards designed to ensure the CRTC would not regulate user generated content as part of Bill C-10, its Broadcasting Act reform bill, the public and political world have awoken to the troubling implications for freedom of expression. Political columnists are comparing Canada to China in censoring the Internet and opposition MPs have launched petitions with promises to fight back against the bill. The issue unsurprisingly became a major talking point during Question Period in the House of Commons yesterday. While Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault retreated to his usual talking points, it is notable that his claims are not even supported by his own department officials.
Here is what Guilbeault told the House of Commons yesterday in response to a barrage of questions from opposition MPs on Bill C-10 and its implications for free speech:
We have said from the beginning, when we introduced Bill C-10, that user-generated content would be excluded, but that online platforms that act as broadcasters would be included in the legislation. This is exactly what the amendments that have been debated in committee try do, and that is what we will do.
While Guilbeault wants Canadians to believe that user generated content is excluded from the bill, his own department disagrees. Owen Ripley, Canadian Heritage’s Director General of Broadcasting, Copyright and Creative Marketplace, described the implications to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage minutes before it voted to remove Section 4.1, the provision excluding user generated content as a program subject to CRTC regulation:
Ms. Dabrusin has signalled the government intends to repeal, or suggest a repeal, of Section 4.1 altogether, meaning that there would no longer be any exclusion for social media services at all. For the benefit of the committee, in our previous sessions, the committee upheld the exclusion for users of social media companies. In other words, when you or I upload something to YouTube or some other sharing service, we will not be considered broadcasters for the purposes of the Act. The CRTC couldn’t call us before them and we couldn’t be subject to CRTC hearings.
But if the exclusion is removed – if 4.1 is struck down – the programming we upload to Youtube, that programming that we place on that service would be subject to regulation moving forward, but would be the responsibility of Youtube or whatever the sharing service is. The programming that is uploaded could be subject to discoverability requirements or certain obligations like that.
If the way forward to is maintain the exclusion for individual users but to strike down the exclusion for social media companies, that means that all the programming that is on those services would be subject to the Act regardless of whether it was put there by an affiliate or a mandatary of the company.
This isn’t complicated. The Liberals established exceptions for users and their content in Bill C-10. In fact, on the day he introduced the legislation, Guilbeault told the House of Commons that “user generated content will not be regulated.” With last week’s change, his own department acknowledges that the content will be regulated. No amount of spin will change the reality that Guilbeault committed to exclude user generated content, but caved to pressure from music industry lobbyists instead, tossing out freedom of expression in the process.