I, HenryLi, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

I, HenryLi, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Filibuster of Bill S-210 Confirmed: Conservative MPs Put Privacy and Free Speech Online At Risk Over Release of Report

Last week I posted on concerns that Conservative MPs were engaged in a prolonged filibuster at the committee study of Bill S-210, a bill the government has called “fundamentally flawed” since it contemplates measures that raise privacy concerns through mandated age verification technologies, website blocking, and extends far beyond pornography sites to include search and social media. The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security is charged with reviewing the bill, but thus far repeated attempts to hear from witnesses have been stymied by a filibuster from Conservative MPs resulting in no witness testimony. With requirements to report the bill back the House shortly, the end result could mean no expert testimony and the possibility of an unamended bill that places privacy and freedom of expression online at risk.

At yesterday’s lengthy four-hour hearing, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis confirmed the filibuster, stating that the party wants the government to release a report involving the prison transfer of Paul Bernardo before it is willing to conduct the study on the bill. The exchange, which came at the very end of the hearing:

Ms. Jennifer O’Connell: On that point, I would ask that you look for additional resources for future meetings, given that the Conservatives want to continue filibustering to avoid getting to S-210. We’re prepared to let them speak and filibuster as long as it takes, because we want to actually get down to work of the business of this committee.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Thank you, Chair. I think we’ve been very clear about our position around the Bernardo transfer. I would just encourage Ms. O’Connell to negotiate in good faith with our lead on the committee. Hopefully, we’ll be able to come to a resolution that does involve the release of the Bernardo transfer report. That’s our priority: that the Bernardo transfer report be released. If the Liberals are prepared to move on that and stop burying this report, then I think we’ll be able to come to an agreement fairly quickly on how to proceed.

I have no views on releasing the Bernardo report. What I do know is that Bill S-210 runs counter to the Conservatives’ longstanding support for freedom of expression online. Indeed, a bill that would require age verification for search and social media sites, create express website blocking of lawful content, and engage in facial scanning or facial recognition technologies mandated by government presents risks that cannot be ignored. Yet stopping witness testimony raises precisely these risks and makes a mockery of prior Internet regulation hearings on Bills C-11 and C-18 when Conservative MPs emphasized the need for more extensive witness testimony. Bill S-210 should be defeated, but before doing so, it demands proper study. The party should stop the filibuster and the committee should extend the hearings to ensure that children, freedom of expression, and privacy are all protected.

One Comment

  1. Cold comfort is the worse bill s210 gets, the more unconstitutional it is and the hopefully increases likelihood it can struck down in court. Some censorship “anti porn” bills were struck down in the US, so hopefully that can be used as precedent.

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