Over the past couple of weeks, there has been mounting outrage over a CRTC decision involving Radio-Canada and a broadcast segment from 2020 in which the N-word was used multiple times as part of a discussion of a book that contains the word in its title. That decision has sparked cries of censorship and concerns about the CRTC. Given that Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and the government want to give the Commission even more power over Internet content as part of Bill C-11, the implications extend beyond this case. Monica Auer, the executive director of the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications, joins the Law Bytes podcast to discuss the latest developments, the broader concerns with CRTC governance, and whether assurances regarding Internet speech safeguards stand up to careful scrutiny.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 134: Monica Auer on CRTC Governance, Content Regulation and the Radio-Canada Decision
Responding to the Rogers Outage: Time to Get Serious About Competition, Consumer Rights, and Communications Regulation
Like many Canadians, I spent most of the massive Rogers outage completely offline. With the benefit of hindsight, my family made a big mistake by relying on a single provider for everything: broadband, home phone, cable, and wireless services on a family plan. When everything went down, everything really went down. No dial tone, no channels, no connectivity. Work was challenging and contact with the kids shut off. It was disorienting and a reminder of our reliance on communications networks for virtually every aspect of our daily lives.
So what comes next? We cannot let this become nothing more than a “what did you do” memory alongside some nominal credit from Rogers for the inconvenience. Canada obviously has a competition problem when it comes to communications services resulting in some of the highest wireless and broadband pricing in the developed world. Purchasing more of those services as a backup – whether an extra broadband or cellphone connection – will be unaffordable to most and only exacerbate the problem. Even distributing the services among providers likely means that consumers take a financial hit as they walk away from the benefits from a market that has incentivized bundling discounts. Consumers always pay the price in these circumstances, but there are policy solutions that could reduce the risk of catastrophic outages and our reliance on a single provider for so many essential services.
Unequal Speech: How to Explain the Contradictory Criticism of the CRTC Radio-Canada Decision and Support for Bill C-11
The controversy over the CRTC’s Radio-Canada decision involving its repeated use of the N-word has continued to grow with Quebec-based politicians – including the governing CAQ and the Liberal Party of Quebec – warning of censorship and calling on Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to reverse the CRTC decision. The outpouring has left me struggling to reconcile the seeming hypocrisy of politicians who warn about the dangers of CRTC speech regulation even as they have been the most ardent supporters of Bill C-11, eager to pass resolutions that call on the federal government to enact legislation empowering the CRTC to regulate user content.
My initial take in a tweet was that this reflects a demand to protect their own speech even as there is a willingness to sacrifice the speech of others in return for a Youtube payoff. On reflection, however, I think there is more at play. Before explaining, it bears mentioning that months of assurances during the Bill C-11 hearings that the CRTC does not engage in speech regulation were patently false.
The Freedom of Expression Wake Up Call: Why the CRTC’s Radio-Canada Ruling Eviscerates the Defence of Bill C-11
Bill C-11’s defenders have typically dismissed concerns about the bill and its implications for freedom of expression as misinformation. When pressed to address the actual substance in the bill, they either insist (wrongly) that the bill excludes user content or, alternatively, that even if it is in, the CRTC is bound by the Charter and requirements to safeguard freedom of expression. The claims about the exclusion of user content from the bill have been exceptionally weak as any reasonable reading of Section 4.2 leads to the conclusion that content is subject to potential CRTC regulation (for example, TikTok has concluded that all videos with music are caught). That regulation can include conditions on “the presentation of programs and programming services for selection by the public”, which means the CRTC can establish regulations on the presentation of content found on Internet platforms (the suggestion that it can’t or won’t watch millions of videos has always been a red herring since it doesn’t need to with a broadly-applicable regulation in place).
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 133: Michael Nesbitt on How the Senate Pushed Back Against a Government Bill on Searching Digital Devices at the Border
It isn’t every day that a Senate committee examines legislation and makes notable changes against the wishes of the government. But that’s what happened last month as a Senate committee reviewed Bill S-7, which raised significant privacy concerns regarding the legal standard for searches of digital devices at the border. A chorus of opposition sparked by Senator Paula Simons led to changes in the bill with the Chair of the committee acknowledging “we did not have one witness except the minister and the officials say that the new standard was a good idea.”
University of Calgary law professor Michael Nesbitt, who teaches and researches in the areas of criminal and national security law, appeared before the committee to argue against the government’s proposed approach. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to talk about the bill, the change at the Senate, and what lies ahead as the bill moves to the House of Commons in the fall.