Tracking the Submissions: What the Government Heard in its Online Harms Consultation (Since It Refuses to Post Them)
The Canadian government’s consultation on online harms concluded earlier this week with a wide range of organizations and experts responding with harshly critical submissions that warn of the harm to freedom of expression, the undermining of Canada’s position in the world as a leader in human rights, and the risk that the proposed measures could hurt the very groups it is purportedly intended to help. I posted my submission and pulled together a Twitter stream of other submissions.
There has been some press coverage of the consultation response from the Globe and Mail and National Post, but Canadian Heritage officials have said they will not post the submissions they received, claiming some “may contain confidential business information.” Keeping the results of the consultation is secret is incredibly damaging, raising further questions about whether the government plans to incorporate the feedback or simply march ahead with an extreme, deeply flawed proposal.
Failure to Balance Freedom of Expression and Protection from Online Harms: My Submission to the Government’s Consultation on Addressing Harmful Content Online
The government’s consultation on its proposed approach to address harmful content online concluded over the weekend. The consultation was one of several consults that ran during the election period and which raise questions about whether policy makers are genuinely interested in incorporating feedback from Canadians. I submitted to all the various consultations and will be posting those submissions this week.
I start with my online harms submission. The full submission, which touches on issues such as 24 hour takedowns, website blocking, proactive monitoring, and enforcement, can be found here. To learn more about the issues, catch my Law Bytes podcast episode with Cynthia Khoo or listen to a terrific discussion that I had together with Daphne Keller on the Tech Policy Press Podcast. The submission opens with eight general comments that I’ve posted below:
The Liberal party released its election platform yesterday and perhaps everything you need to know can be gleaned from the fact that Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault posted multiple tweets about plans for new cultural spending initiatives and Internet regulations in French without a single English language tweet. This is surely not a coincidence since the government’s digital policies have long been designed to curry favour in Quebec, even at risk of angering voters in the rest of Canada. Based on decision to forge ahead with Internet regulations with enormous implications for freedom of expression, alienating voters in the rest of Canada that have raised concerns with policies such as Bill C-10 is not a worry for the Liberal government.
Neither, it would seem, is the affordability of Internet and wireless services, which do not receive a single mention or direct policy measure. In doing so, the party has seemingly abandoned wireless competitiveness as an issue and unequivocally sided with the big telecom companies despite presiding over some of the world’s most expensive wireless services. The party platform is titled “Forward for Everyone” but not everyone moves forward in quite the same way with big telecom companies moving further ahead than Canadian consumers.
Last week’s Supreme Court of Canada copyright decision in Access Copyright v. York University has unsurprisingly been applauded by the education community, which having faced years of litigation launched by the copyright collective, now finds its position vindicated. With the court resoundingly rejecting Access Copyright’s claims that its tariff is mandatory, finding that it had no standing to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement on behalf of its members, and concluding that a lower court fair dealing analysis that favoured the copyright collective was tainted with “a fairness assessment that was over before it began”, there is little doubt about which party prevailed. Yet Access Copyright has returned to its longstanding playbook of downplaying Supreme Court decisions and misleading its own members in the process.