The government’s online harms bill – likely rebranded as an online safety bill – is expected to be tabled by Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez in the coming weeks. The bill, which reports suggest will even include age verification requirements that raise significant privacy and expression concerns, is expected to emerge as the most controversial of the government’s three-part Internet regulation plan that also includes Bill C-11 and Bill C-18. Given the fierce debate and opposition to those two bills, it may be hard to believe that online harms or safety will be even more contentious. Yet that is likely both because the bill will have enormous implications for freedom of expression and because Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and his department face a significant credibility gap on the file. To be absolutely clear, there is a need for legislation that addresses online harms and ensures that Internet platforms operate in a transparent, responsible manner with the prospect of liability for failure to do so. However, Canadian Heritage has repeatedly fumbled the issue with conduct that raises serious concerns about whether it is fit to lead.
The Canadian Heritage Credibility Gap on Online Harms, Part One: Public Report Did Not Disclose 90% Opposition to Its 2021 Proposal
Why the Senate Should Restore the User Content Amendment and Send Bill C-11 Back to the House of Commons
Bill C-11 took a major step forward late last week as the government cut off debate yet again and forced a vote on an amended bill that rejected the Senate’s fix to concerns about user content regulation. The vote has sparked heated debates on social media, including mistaken insistence by some that the bill does not affect user content (it clearly does) or that it will censor what Canadians can say online (it will not). The reality is that Bill C-11 has important freedom of expression implications not because it will limit people’s ability to speak, but because government regulation may affect their ability to be heard. Given those implications – and the government’s inability to cite a credible justification for rejecting an amendment to address the problem by excluding user content from potential regulation – I believe the Senate should send the bill back to the House once more by restoring the amendment.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 162: Paul Andersen on the Rogers-Shaw Merger and the Disappearing Independent Internet Provider in Canada
Last week, Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne tried to spin his approval of the Rogers-Shaw merger and the enhanced role of Videotron as a win for Canadians, arguing that somehow fewer competitors would lead to greater competition. But in recent months, the Canadian communications landscape has shifted, not only with this merger but also with the gradual disappearance of a half-dozen independent providers who have been swallowed up by the large companies. What does this mean for the wireless and Internet competition in Canada? Is there any hope for consumers for a respite from some of the world’s highest prices? Paul Andersen is the Chair of CNOC – the Competitive Network Operators of Canada – and the President of E-Gate Networks, an independent provider. He joins the Law Bytes podcast to talk about the implications of the merger, the loss of many independent providers and recent leadership changes at the CRTC.
Competition in Canada Takes Another Hit: Government Gives Go Ahead for Rogers – Shaw Merger
Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne has worked hard to fashion himself as a future party leader based on boundless energy to sell Canada the world. Indeed, Champagne’s oft-repeated stories of cold calls that resulted in investments by companies such as Volkswagen and Moderna paint a picture of a minister jetting around the world in support of the Canadian economy. Unfortunately, Champagne’s record is also one of a minister less interested in what is actually happening at home. His privacy legislation has languished for months and he has been entirely missing on digital policy, where fishing expeditions such as the one involving Bill C-18 are likely to make companies reticent about entering the Canadian market. This morning there was another lasting and damaging development as the approval of Rogers-Shaw merger (or more accurately the approval of the transfer of licences that pave the way for the merger) will mean that Champagne will have presided over the destruction of the competitive communications market with both another major merger and the sudden disappearance of many independent providers.
The Dongle Budget: What Prioritizing a Common Cell Phone Charging Port Says About Canadian Digital Policy
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland released the government’s 2023 budget yesterday with a raft of new spending initiatives and subsidies for “clean tech” to match developments in the United States. Budgets have become policy mapping documents where the government identifies its priorities for the coming year, often accompanied by plans to incorporate them into the Budget Implementation Act, where they are virtually guaranteed to pass with limited Parliamentary overview and debate. I’ll identify some of the most notable developments below, but want to focus on a commitment to establish a standard charging port in Canada which I think is emblematic of a government that has increasingly lost the plot on digital policy.