Montreal.  2019-09-27. by Justin Trudeau

Montreal. 2019-09-27. by Justin Trudeau


Why the Liberals Have Become the Most Anti-Internet Government in Canadian History

The Liberals led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were first elected in 2015 on a platform that emphasized transparency, consultation, and innovation. The signals were everywhere: it released  ministerial mandate letters to demonstrate transparency, renamed the Minister of Industry to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to point to the importance of an innovative economy, and soon after the cabinet was sworn in, Canadians were awash in public consultations (I recall participating in an almost instant consult on the Trans Pacific Partnership). With promises of entrenching net neutrality, prioritizing innovation, focusing on privacy rather than surveillance, and supporting freedom of expression, the government left little doubt about its preferred policy approach.

As I watched Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault yesterday close the Action Summit to Combat Online Hate, I was left with whiplash as I thought back to those early days. Today’s Liberal government is unrecognizable by comparison as it today stands the most anti-Internet government in Canadian history:

  • As it moves to create the Great Canadian Internet Firewall, net neutrality is out and mandated Internet blocking is in.
  • Freedom of expression and due process is out, quick takedowns without independent review and increased liability are in.
  • Innovation and new business models are out, CRTC regulation is in.
  • Privacy reform is out, Internet taxation is in.
  • Prioritizing consumer Internet access and affordability is out, reduced competition through mergers are in.
  • And perhaps most troublingly, consultation and transparency are out, secrecy is in.

This is not hyperbole. The Action Summit is a case in point. I was part of the planning committee and I am proud that the event produced two days of thoughtful discussion and debate, where both the importance and complexity of addressing online hate brought a myriad of perspectives, including from the major Internet platforms. There was none of that nuance in Guilbeault’s words, who spoke of the evil associated with the “web behemoths” and promised that his legislation would target content and Internet sites and services anywhere in the world provided it was accessible to Canadians. The obvious implications – much discussed in Internet circles in Ottawa – is that the government plans to introduce mandated content blocking to keep such content out of Canada as a so-called “last resort”. When combined with a copyright “consultation” launched this week that also raises Internet blocking, Guilbeault’s vision is to require Internet providers to install blocking capabilities, create new regulators and content adjudicators to issue blocking orders, dispense with net neutrality, and build a Canadian Internet firewall.

If that wasn’t enough, his forthcoming bill will also mandate content removals within 24 hours with significant penalties for failure to do so. The approach trades due process for speed, effectively reducing independent oversight and incentivizing content removal by Internet platforms. Just about everyone thinks this is a bad idea, but Guilbeault insists that “it is in the mandate letter.” In other words, consultations don’t matter, expertise doesn’t matter, the experience elsewhere doesn’t matter. Instead, a mandate letter trumps all. If this occurred under Stephen Harper’s watch, the criticism would be unrelenting.

In fact, one of the reasons that the government finds itself committed to dangerous policy is that it did not conduct a public consultation on its forthcoming online harms bill. Guilbeault was forced yesterday to admit that the public has not been consulted, which he tried to justify by claiming that it could participate in the committee review or in the development of implementation guidelines once the bill becomes law. This alone should be disqualifying as no government should introduce censorship legislation that mandates website blocking, eradicates net neutrality, harms freedom of expression, and dispenses with due process without having ever consulted Canadians on the issue.

Further, this is the same minister whose Bill C-10 (the Internet regulation broadcast bill) by-passed the usual House of Commons debate, eliminates committee review on government policy directions, and will be the subject of a clause-by-clause review following an embarrassingly superficial series of hearings. It is also the same minister who has launched two copyright consultations with short timelines that ignore the most extensive review and consultation on copyright in a decade. And it is a minister who pays for Facebook advertising, but threatens to mandate payments for news links, yet again without a public consultation. In fact, this week his department wrote to academics (myself included) with a questionnaire on the issue that granted only two weeks to respond. It is consultation theatre, not consultation.

Guilbeault may be government’s the leading anti-Internet voice, but he is hardly alone. As I pointed out last month, Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has been missing-in-action on digital files, most notably Bill C-11, the privacy bill that has languished since its introduction last year. Champagne quickly responded that the bill was a government priority, but six weeks later, nothing has happened and it is clear that privacy reform is going nowhere.

The same minister has abandoned longstanding department copyright policy priorities, ignoring the Standing Committee on Industry’s authoritative report on copyright by promoting a consultation on website blocking and doing nothing on its actual recommendations or to address the concerns of his stakeholders. His silence on issues that have enormous implications for the innovation economy – site blocking, digital taxes, link payments – speaks volumes. So too does his disappearing act on consumer wireless affordability, offering little in the way of a reassurance that the issue matters anymore to the government. His cabinet colleague plans to undermine net neutrality and his department that has responsibility for telecom issues says nothing. It has only been a few months, but it is hard to think of a recent Industry/ISED Minister that has been less effective or engaged on digital policy.

Indeed, that approach permeates the entire cabinet and the Prime Minister. Where is International Trade Minister Mary Ng on tax and digital policies that are likely to result in billions in tariff retaliation and may violate the USMCA?  Where is Justice Minister David Lametti on the constitutionality of Guilbeault’s site blocking plans? Where is Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray where her cabinet colleague says AI is one of our greatest threats?  Where is Minister Maryam Monsef as many Canadians in rural and remote areas still lack affordable Internet access?  And where is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was happy to sub-tweet then-U.S. President Donald Trump on net neutrality but is now set to oversee censorship legislation that includes mandated content blocking?

All remain silent as the government pursues policies and non-consultative processes that would have been unimaginable when it took office. It may have started with emphasizing innovation, but discouragingly today it is more accurate to lament that it has become the most anti-Internet government in Canadian history.


  1. Pierre gave us the Charter of Rights; his idiot son and the xenophobic Heritage Minister want to walk all over it.

  2. iain stuart says:

    Watching the internet evolve since the late 1980’s, I can’t help but think it is much like the Wild West. Where effective control and governance was rare, and corruption and predatory business practices left the common person at the mercy of powerful interests. Today, if you do not have multiple layers of security and keep clear of certain sites you will almost certainly pay the price. There are aspects of the internet that are really cool, but there is so much rubbish, so many bad actors, and such pervasive greed I sometimes think it would be best to just watch it burn down.

    • Sok Puppette says:

      You do know you’re not actually required to use the Internet, let alone any particular site or service. Right?

      • We are absolutely required to use the Internet. We must have access and are required to use Internet for most of Government Services, most Health Services (family doctors, lab results). Also, lots of us have family members we can’t meet in person and the Internet is the ONLY way to talk and see our loved ones.
        I really don’t understand what are you referring to with your statement?

      • Arthur Doubt says:

        Why do you hide you name? Is that how you are reduced to feeling comfortable participating on this Internet that we don’thave to use?

    • Jason Keirstead says:

      None of the measures that this government is looking at and are mentioned above, have anything at all to do with cybersecurity. All of these things are about lining Bell and Rogers pockets and reducing competition in Canada.

      • Exactly, it’s the Liberal Party’s Big Lie. They are not doing this to protect anyone they are doing this as a favour to make they’re corporate friends richer. Bell and Rogers told the Liberals to do this and the Liberals are listening to their commands. What Guilbeault is doing is immoral.

  3. Very depressing. This is the typical inevitable result of anything Trudeau takes on. It was doomed from the start. I have spent about a decade and a half wondering if Canada will create any meaningful privacy regulation scheme to protect Canadians from the practices of Google, Facebook and their subsidiaries. Nope.
    What does the Liberal government do instead? Create a Netflix tax that will strain already strained household spending, and a plan to police speech online rather than protect Canadian’s privacy. The top two things we don’t need and zero of what we have needed for a decade.

  4. Except Trudeau is also known as one of the most tech-savvy of the G7/G20 leaders, so it’s not like he’s going into this as a tech-illiterate. He actually is very good with the cyber. If it makes Ballingall and Ezra and Alex Jones quiver in their skivvies, I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m with Ian above, the Internet started out as a good idea but went sideways rather quickly. Now it’s looking to be a mistake. Maybe if the world’s “good guy” governments get together they can force a literal comic book villain like Zuckerberg to be banished to the phantom zone or at least the unemployment line once and for all.

    • Jason Keirstead says:

      I don’t care what he is known as – as a subject matter expert in this area, I can’t tell you enough how bad an idea each of these bills are.

    • “The Internet” has always only been one thing… a way to distribute data. I don’t get it when people say “the internet has become so bad” because they clearly aren’t surfing wikipedia (which is awesome, mostly).

      I use the internet for research, movies, and music mostly, but I can see how people who use it for twitter, cbc comments and facebook could get a really negative impression.

      The bills are really bad… I’m guessing the Supreme Court of Canada won’t like them as they have been generally very permissive about “fair dealing” in copyright law.

      In the absence of a media outlet that I can watch what I want for a reasonable flat rate, file sharing on the internet is the only centralized hub for media. If people have to pay cable TV, internet for netflix, and then HBO and Disney channel subscriptions to watch the 6 shows they like and it costs them 200 dollars (almost none of that goes to the actual content creators)… well… file sharing sites just became my hero’s for offering people the cultural material they can’t afford but should at least get a chance to see – I think the SCC would agree.

      • It’s not the piracy stuff I care about. Let the courts and the government squabble over that, whatever. I just want to see Rebel Media flushed like the turd it is. NY Times reporting today on the connection between Trumpf’s bagmen, some violent Brexit thug and Russia, using Rebel as a conduit. Go to Amazon and buy the Mickey Mouse DVD for 6 bucks if need be. If getting MAGA crap offline means sacrificing torrent sites, so be it. Small price to pay for destroying every copy of Trumpf of the Will. Good on Trudeau.

        • I also saw that NYT article connecting Levant to “Tommy Robinson”. Certainly, we need to deal with the new fascist international as a threat to humanity as a whole. There are ways to do that without sacrificing our Section 2 rights altogether…if there needs be any such sacrifice at all.

        • Nice little authoritarian speech there. If you got anymore extremist you’d want to round people up into camps. Want anything else like a nice pair of boots or shiny badge to virtue signal?

        • Great idea to target your political enemies, it sets a precedent for them to do the same to you should they take power. Or, if the party you bow to becomes the great one party ruler, eventually your beliefs will be labeled as conspiracy theories and dangerous security threats but it’ll be too late for you and no recourse. First they came for Alex Jones.

  5. We’ve essentially regressed to the bad old days of the Martin/Chretien governments of the mid 2000’s. Back then, if a powerful lobby group demanded it, it was tabled as legislation, no questions asked. At the time, there was demands to put into law a Canadian DMCA that would allow corporations to sue ever day Canadians into oblivion based on little more than a mere allegation of copyright infringement. At the same time, you had spy organizations that demanded that the government eliminated all privacy online through warrantless wiretapping. That, naturally, got thrown into the mix because a bad idea is clearly fit to become law. If it weren’t for us advocates backed by common Canadians, Canada would easily have slipped into a regressive anti-tech pit where the only logical move for innovators would be to move out of the country.

    Today, it’s pretty much the same thing. The Liberal government will take any terrible tech policy that can be imagined and put it into legislation. If it’s a good idea, it’s going to either get delayed or run through a shredder. What we do have as a luxury is the fact that there is a possible election forthcoming that could pretty much kill every bill that threatens to destroy what little rights we are afforded on the Internet. It’s no slam dunk we’ll get that, but it is a possibility.

    Also, for those who run the risk of falling into that trap again, no, the Conservatives are no better. They will CTRL+C, CTRL+V every bad policy the Liberals come up with and maybe even find a way to make it worse. It happened with Harper and it’s going to happen if, God forbid, O’Toole gets in.

    The largest party that can be trusted on any of these issues is the NDP. Green Party is also a safe bet for these issues (Stay away from the Bloq, obviously).

    Like Geist, I was hopeful when these announcements game down back in the early days of this government, but left severely disappointed. The only thing this proves is that Liberals and Conservatives should never be trusted to put together good sound legislative policies on privacy, copyright, and other critical Internet related items.

    • Agreed that Green and NDP would be good on these issues. The Libertarian PPC would be in agreement as well, though it’s doubtful they’ll win seats. They’re fitting the opposition role best. NDP just wants more money added to the massive pile already destroying the future. Cons just want a little less. But yeah Bernier wasted his airtime talking about cheese and milk wonkery.

      PPC are labeled fascists by the duopoly fusing government and corporate interests into a single body working against citizens, trampling on rights and grifting constantly. Cons and Liberals appear almost totally interchangeable on this with O’Toole at the helm. He ran against cancel culture, then immediately started canceling people. Jagmeet calling anyone who disagrees with him racist is similarly idiotic.

      There are good MPs in every party to be clear, but there’s a lot of nonsense in all of them.

      • I can’t speak to the Greens, but I am not sure that the NDP would be much better than the Libs or Cons on this file. All three have issues with large organizations having significant influence in their organization; in the case of the Liberals and Cons it is the business community, in the case of the NDP it is the large labour unions and similar organizations. From what I’ve seen I don’t believe the large unions always have the best interests of the members at heart, rather the best interests of the union leadership and their agenda (In my working career I worked at places which had no union, as well as one where I was the member of a large union and one where I was the member of a small union. The large union played games with its membership, pitting off one group against other groups). None of the parties seem to really give $0.02 about the little person. I actually wish we had more independent MPs in Parliament, but the NDP and Green want a PR system, which would mean that independent MPs such Jody Wilson-Raybould could not be elected.

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  9. I expect legal regulation, perhaps outright prohibition, on VPN use in Canada. This would seem essentential, given the level of censorship they government is planning.

  10. As per my knowledge, Trudeau were first elected in 2015. Not in the canada, but there are many countries where “Most Anti-Internet Government is their rivalry parties. I am not in shock if someone saying that.

  11. Austin Campagna says:

    Watch out, this article may be taken down if this bill passes

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  16. Tracy Roberts says:

    It definitely has evolved. But so has the news content. In the past on regular broadcasting shows like The Fifth Estate, 60 Minutes, even W5, real investigative reporting was in its infancy. Put the people of now in front of those shows then, and they would be calling it “fake news”. With the internet further information can be shared, and shared quickly. The ability to pull the wool over the unsuspecting public has be diminished. That is where the entire “Fake News” propaganda began. Convince everyone that all conflicting views are such, and ignore those stories, mock them, discredit the experts that were interviewed etc. Even ultra biased CBC’s Fifth Estate has gone into damage control. Some of their past stories could be classified as invastigative journalism stories against investigative journalism ! As was once said about the power of propaganda….When people cannot decipher the what is truth or not, you have control.

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  20. Guy Poutine says:

    Internet is not one thing. How would you deal with the current problems such as:
    1. Extractive relationship with creators and content producers?
    2. Hostility to local labour laws and organizing?
    3. Significant tax avoidance and offshoring?
    4. Externalizing financial costs of operations onto taxpayers?
    5. Democracy perverting functions and power concentration?

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