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.
Post Tagged with: "Censorship"
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 134: Monica Auer on CRTC Governance, Content Regulation and the Radio-Canada Decision
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).
Last week, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez introduced Bill C-18, the Online News Act, a bill that adopts an extreme approach to compensation by requiring payments for merely facilitating access to news in any way and in any amount. As a result, the Canadian government envisions mandated payments not only for copying or reproducing the news or for directly linking to news articles, but also for general links to news sites. But the concerns with Bill C-18 do not end there. The bill threatens press independence in two important respects.
The Liberals led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were first elected in 2015 on a platform that emphasized transparency, consultation, and innovation. The signals were everywhere: it released ministerial mandate letters to demonstrate transparency, renamed the Minister of Industry to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development to point to the importance of an innovative economy, and soon after the cabinet was sworn in, Canadians were awash in public consultations (I recall participating in an almost instant consult on the Trans Pacific Partnership). With promises of entrenching net neutrality, prioritizing innovation, focusing on privacy rather than surveillance, and supporting freedom of expression, the government left little doubt about its preferred policy approach.
As I watched Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault yesterday close the Action Summit to Combat Online Hate, I was left with whiplash as I thought back to those early days. Today’s Liberal government is unrecognizable by comparison as it today stands the most anti-Internet government in Canadian history:
- As it moves to create the Great Canadian Internet Firewall, net neutrality is out and mandated Internet blocking is in.
- Freedom of expression and due process is out, quick takedowns without independent review and increased liability are in.
- Innovation and new business models are out, CRTC regulation is in.
- Privacy reform is out, Internet taxation is in.
- Prioritizing consumer Internet access and affordability is out, reduced competition through mergers are in.
- And perhaps most troublingly, consultation and transparency are out, secrecy is in.