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.