The Senate Bill C-10 debate wrapped up yesterday with several speeches and a vote to send the bill to committee for further study. Given that the Senate declined to approve summer hearings for the bill, the earliest possible time for the study to begin is the week of September 20th. If there is a late summer/early fall election as most observers expect, Bill C-10 will die. Without an election, Bill C-10 will be back for Senate hearings in the fall with many Senators emphasizing the need for a comprehensive study that features the myriad of perspectives that were excluded from the failed House review.
While the debate in the Senate was marked by consistent calls for more study (my recap of day one, day two), the final debate was punctuated by a powerful speech from Senator David Adams Richards. One of Canada’s leading authors, Senator Richards has won the Governor General’s Award for both fiction and non-fiction, the Giller Prize, and is a member of the Order of Canada. Senator Richards, appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau to the Senate in 2017, warns against government or cultural decision makers and the parallels to Bill C-10:
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The Liberal government strategy of multiple gag orders and a “super motion” to limit debate bore fruit last night as Bill C-10 received House of Commons approval at 1:30 am. The Parliamentary process took hours as the government passed multiple motions to cut short debate, re-inserted amendments that had been previously ruled null and void, and rejected a last-ditch attempt to restore the Section 4.1 safeguards for user generated content. The debate included obvious errors from Liberal MPs who were presumably chosen to defend the bill. For example, Julie Dabrusin, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, said that Section 2.1 in Bill C-10 “specifically excludes content uploaded by users.” Only it doesn’t as Dabrusin should know given that 2.1 covers users not content and she was the MP who introduced the amendment at committee to remove Section 4.1, which was the provision that excluded content uploaded by users.
Given the public support from the Bloc for cutting short debate, the outcome last night was never really in doubt. Perhaps the most interesting vote of the night came with a motion from Conservative MP Alain Rayes, which once again called for the re-insertion of Section 4.1. While the motion was defeated with the support of Liberal, NDP, and Bloc MPs, there were several notable exceptions. Liberal MPs Nate-Erskine Smith and Wayne Long both abstained and former Justice Minister (and now independent MP) Jody Wilson-Raybould voted in favour of the motion. The report stage was limited to one hour of debate, which meant that the 23 amendments were again subject to no real debate or discussion. Once the bill passed the report stage, it was on to third and final reading, which was limited to 15 minutes of debate per party. The vote followed just before 1:30 am with the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc once again supporting Bill C-10. Wilson-Raybould joined with the Conservatives in voting against it [full vote by MP here].
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Fresh off imposing a five-hour gag order on committee debate on Bill C-10 and rushing through a secretive process in which dozens of amendments were passed without any debate, discussion or even disclosure of the amendments, the government is back for a gag order sequel. Yesterday, the Liberal government introduced another motion, this one designed to limit debate even further: one hour for debate at the report back stage and 75 minutes at third reading. In other words, less than 2 1/2 hours total for debate on the bill in the House of Commons. The motion was introduced before the updated Bill C-10 was even posted online, though it is now available.
The move led to hours of discussion on the motion last night, leading to a consistent drumbeat from Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs, who kept asking what was in the bill that presented a concern for a freedom of expression. Left unsaid, is that at least part of the answer is what is not the bill:
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Several weeks after Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault introduced Bill C-10, I started a 20 part blog post series called the Broadcasting Act Blunder (podcast edition here). The series examined many of concerns with the bill, including issues such as over-broad regulation and discoverability requirements that would only garner public attention many months later. I thought about that series yesterday as I watched Guilbeault try in the House of Commons to defend the indefensible: a gag order on committee review of the bill, the first such order in two decades. While the bill is in dire need of fixing, what occurred yesterday was far worse than a blunder. It was a betrayal. A betrayal of the government’s commitment to “strengthen Parliamentary committees so that they can better scrutinize legislation.” A betrayal of the promise to do things differently from previous governments. A betrayal of Canada’s values as a Parliamentary democracy.
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Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has frequently claimed that his legislative goal in Bill C-10 is to “get money from web giants”. As last week’s post on a Canadian Heritage departmental memo highlighted, Bill C-10 targets far more than just “web giants” as the bill adopts a far broader regulatory approach that targets podcast apps such as Stitcher and Pocket Casts, audiobook services such as Audible, home workout apps, pornographic sites, sports streaming services such as MLB.TV and DAZN, niche video services such as Britbox, and even broadcaster websites such as the BBC.
The effect of significant new regulatory costs on these services is likely to spark one of two responses: some services will simply pass along the costs to consumers in the form of new Cancon surcharges, while others will likely block the Canadian market altogether. The Cancon surcharges, when combined with the new sales taxes on digital services that take effect later this year, could lead to the costs of digital services skyrocketing by nearly 50 per cent in Canada. If that happens, Guilbeault will be getting money from consumers, not the web giants.
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