The Bill C-11 debate continued for hours in the House of Commons yesterday with a dispiriting discussion featuring MPs from all sides ignoring or exaggerating the implications of the bill. The debate often seemed to gravitate to two polar opposites: either the bill is China or North Korea-style censorship or it has no implications for freedom of expression and the regulation of user content. Both are false. To the claims of censorship, Bill C-11 is not China, Russia or Nazi Germany. As I’ve stated many times, it does not limit the ability to speak, but could impact the ability to be heard. That raises important implications for freedom of expression but it does not turn Canada into China. To the claims that user content regulation is excluded from the bill, Section 4.1(2)(b) and 4.2.2 clearly scope such content into the bill, an interpretation that has been confirmed by dozens of experts and the former Chair of the CRTC. Liberal and NDP MP claims to the contrary should be regarded as disinformation, a deliberate attempt to spread false information. Indeed, the Senate proposed a fix. The government rejected it. That was supposed to be the focus of the debate, yet Liberal MPs such as Kevin Lamoureux falsely claimed that there is no there there.
This from Liberal MP @Kevin_Lamoureux is just plainly wrong. Independent Senators, former CRTC chair, and many experts all agreed: Bill C-11 gives the CRTC the power to establish certain regulations involving user content. The Senate tried to fix. @pablorodriguez rejected it. pic.twitter.com/mpujchAa4G
— Michael Geist (@mgeist) March 27, 2023
There were many other misleading or inaccurate statements throughout the day. Contrary to what some claim, the bill will not result in hundreds of millions of new spending or lead to increased consumer choice (the opposite is true). It will require the CRTC to re-examine Cancon rules, which experience suggests are only loosely correlated to the professed goal of “telling Canadian stories.” But leaving all of these things aside, there was really only one question that needed answering: if the government’s intent is not to regulate user content and the Senate passed an amendment consistent with that goal after concluding that Bill C-11 in its current form opens the door to CRTC regulation, why is the government rejecting the amendment?
That question was posed to both Liberal and NDP MPs, but they invariably avoided answering the question. The government’s official response suggests that the answer is simply that it wants to maintain the power to regulate, no matter claims to the contrary. Yet it fell to Bloc MP Andréanne Larouche to provide what is likely the most accurate, if deeply troubling answer. When asked to confirm that the bill maintains freedom of expression safeguards, she responded with the following per the House of Commons translator “if violating freedom of expression means ensuring that Quebec content is well represented online then that’s worth it.”
This both deeply troubling and explains a lot when it comes to Bill C-11. This from Bloc MP @A_Larouche_Shef:
”if violating freedom of expression means ensuring that Quebec content is well represented online then that's worth it" pic.twitter.com/32NZzomqDm
— Michael Geist (@mgeist) March 27, 2023
In other words, in the zeal to court support from the Quebec culture lobby, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and the government are choosing in Bill C-11 to sacrifice some freedom of expression, which includes both the right to speak and the right to be heard. Senator Paula Simons, the Trudeau-appointed Senator who crafted the compromise amendment, told the Hill Times this week “either the government is serious when it says that it’s not including digital creators, or it isn’t. Minister Rodriguez has repeatedly said, ‘Platforms in, producers out.’ It would be good if your bill said that too.” It doesn’t and the comments yesterday from the Bloc MP on violating freedom of expression leave little doubt as to why.
Recognizing that the live translator has a very difficult job, I went to Hansard.
It was somewhat difficult to locate, as the not all the live translation words appear in Hansard. But – this is it. It is not quite as incendiary as the live version, but it leaves no doubt that the member for Shefford considers Quebec content more important than freedom of expression.
“More than that, if restricting freedom of expression is the same as trying to get an adequate proportion of francophone content on digital platforms, then I want more francophone content.”
In her answer to a question, Madame Larouche was trying to be ironical and was disserved by the translator, but it is plain that she does not believe that Bill C-11 violates freedom of speech, nor does Professor Pierre Trudel whom she cites in her opening Statement. Here is the truncated simultaneous translation of Andréanne Larouche’s statement in the House of Commons on Monday that is used by Michael Geist: “if violating freedom of expression means ensuring that Quebec content is well represented online then that’s worth it”
Here is the translation in Hansard: “If restricting freedom of expression is the same as trying to get an adequate proportion of francophone content on digital platforms, then I want more francophone content. If that is the one and only thing that Bill C 11 is designed to do, I do not believe it is infringing on freedom of expression. It is better representing the diversity of our cultural milieu.
And here is her original statement as it appears in Hansard: « Si brimer la liberté d’expression, c’est essayer que le contenu francophone se retrouve dans une proportion adéquate sur les plateformes numériques, alors j’en veux plus de contenu francophone. Si le projet de loi C 11 permet cela et juste cela, pour moi, ce n’est pas brimer la liberté d’expression, mais c’est être plus représentatif de la diversité du milieu culturel de chez nous. »
In any case, Andréanne Larouche of the Bloc Québécois is not a spokesperson for the “Québec cultural lobby”.
Perhaps we do not agree on definitions. If my seeking of information is interfered with by government legislation, then my freedom of expression has been infringed.
In the case of illegal or harmful content – as in, contrary to the Criminal Code – then there may be justification. This is not that case.
Essentially she’s saying that more french content is more important to her than the freedom of expression. I’m not sure why both can’t be obtained. One would think that less freedom of expression would = less content, no matter the language.
Parsing through that comment…
“an adequate proportion of francophone content on digital platforms”
… and therein lies a problem. I suspect that almost nobody (except the member above) cares about the *proportion* of any class of content on a platform. I will never watch *everything* on any of the platforms; I just want the classes of content I care about to have enough. Requiring Netflix (one example) to spend more in Canada will not guarantee francophone content. Requiring Netflix to prioritize recommendations for francophone content will not guarantee more actual content. I have not seen anything in this bill that would require Netflix to license more francophone content.
If anything, the requirement to report to the CRTC and potentially pay into the Canadian system might stop services like FranceChannel.TV from even starting to offer service here in the first place, effectively *reducing* the francophone content available in Canada.
The second interpretation here is even more problematic. There are no barriers to distribution of francophone content on YouTube and similar ‘free’ services. The paid services, though, will, in the longer term, tend to license content that matches what the aggregate subscriber base indicates they want to view. They *already* do this. To suggest that there is an inadequate proportion of francophone content, leads quickly to the inference that Canadians are expressing an inadequate proportion of interest in this content.
Think about that.
Is a key concern behind this legislation that Canadians are not “Canadian enough” in their viewing habits?
Quebec and this government have an arrogant, insecurity about culture. They view Quebec and Canadian culture as superior to others, while having a paranoid fear that foreign culture, especially American, will overwhelm their precious culture. As a result, any measure to define, protect and promote culture is justified.
If this bill simply worked to *promote* Canadian culture, it would likely be a much better bill. Even a modest budget to identify Canadian content, and add to the advertising around it, would amount to a positive step forward, and be something that could take effect almost immediately, while sidestepping the whole question of federal domain that may yet result in C-11 being entirely moot.
Of course, it would now have a government department overtly picking winners. C-11 appears to partly be a way to covertly pick winners. Minister Rodriguez both states that one of the goals is to keep government out of the regulation process – hand it to the CRTC – while simultaneously keeping the policy direction secret until after the legislation is in force. When he clearly states that any amendments which would restrict regulation options is off the table, he only adds to the concern that the goal here is to pass a carte blanche bill, and then put the noxious parts in regulation that is not subject to debate.
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I for one had always leaned left, voted NDP or Liberals all my life.
For the first time, due to dirty politics played by them on this bill, I am so disgusted, I will campaigning for opposition.