Days after the government removed legal safeguards designed to ensure the CRTC would not regulate user generated content as part of Bill C-10, its Broadcasting Act reform bill, the public and political world have awoken to the troubling implications for freedom of expression. Political columnists are comparing Canada to China in censoring the Internet and opposition MPs have launched petitions with promises to fight back against the bill. The issue unsurprisingly became a major talking point during Question Period in the House of Commons yesterday. While Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault retreated to his usual talking points, it is notable that his claims are not even supported by his own department officials.
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Why Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s Own Department Officials Don’t Support His Claims on Regulating User Generated Content
The Liberal government’s stunning, dangerous, and inexcusable decision to rescind legislative safeguards for user generated content in Bill C-10 has rightly sparked media attention, political opposition, and anger from Canadians. The Broadcasting Act reform bill is problematic for many reasons, but last week’s decision to treat all user generated content as a program subject to regulation by the CRTC was a giant step too far. As a result of the decision, the CRTC will determine what terms and conditions will be attached the speech of millions of Canadians on sites like Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, and hundreds of other services should the bill become law.
Not Just User Generated Content: Liberal Government Also Want the CRTC to Regulate Apps Under Bill C-10
Earlier tonight, I posted on the government’s attack on freedom of expression with its astonishing plans to regulate all user generated content posted to sites such as Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. But the danger doesn’t stop there. For months, the government insisted that it was not going to regulate video games as part of Bill C-10. In fact, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told the House of Commons:
Bear in mind that we are imposing a number of guardrails. As I said earlier, user-generated content, news content and video games would not be subject to the new regulations.
It turns out none of this is accurate. I’ve blogged about how news is caught by the legislation and the Heritage committee just eliminated the guardrail on user generated content. Now it appears that the government plans to introduce a motion to bring apps under the scope of CRTC regulation.
Freedom of Expression Under Attack: The Liberal Government Moves to Have the CRTC Regulate All User Generated Content
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last month and was asked by Liberal MP Tim Louis about “misinformation that somehow this [Bill C-10] would control, or regulate, or censor social media.” Guilbeault responded:
In the case of YouTube, for example, we’re not particularly interested in what people…you know, when my great-uncle posts pictures of his cats, that’s not what we’re interested in as a legislator.
When YouTube or Facebook act as a broadcaster, then the legislation would apply to them and the CRTC would define how that would happen. But really, we’re not interested in user-generated content. We are interested in what broadcasters are doing.
Guilbeault was referring to a specific exception in Bill C-10, the Broadcasting Act reform bill, that excluded user generated content from the scope of broadcast regulation.
Wrong Direction: Months After Bill C-10 is Tabled, Canadian Heritage Releases Draft Policy Direction Still Short on Details
Months after its introduction, it is fair to say that Bill C-10, the broadcasting reform bill, has not been the government’s finest performance. Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has made claims about the economic benefits that his own department is unable to support, made inaccurate statements about the inclusion of economic thresholds and news in the bill in the House of Commons, and misleadingly compared his plans to the policies in Europe.
From a substantive perspective, even supporters have acknowledged that the bill eliminates the policy objective of Canadian ownership of the broadcasting system (Canadian Heritage officials have offered easily debunked talking points about the issue), drops the prioritization of Canadian performers, fails to address concerns about intellectual property ownership, and punts so many issues to the CRTC that it will take years for any new money to enter the system. If that were not enough, there is the failed process, including fast-tracking the bill to committee before completing second reading and the prospect of a constitutional challenge. Not to be forgotten is the astonishing secrecy: decreased Parliamentary oversight of policy directions and the need for MPs to demand access to basic documents such as costing estimates and draft policy directions that were withheld by Guilbeault and his department.