The Canadian government’s consultation on online harms concluded earlier this week with a wide range of organizations and experts responding with harshly critical submissions that warn of the harm to freedom of expression, the undermining of Canada’s position in the world as a leader in human rights, and the risk that the proposed measures could hurt the very groups it is purportedly intended to help. I posted my submission and pulled together a Twitter stream of other submissions.
There has been some press coverage of the consultation response from the Globe and Mail and National Post, but Canadian Heritage officials have said they will not post the submissions they received, claiming some “may contain confidential business information.” Keeping the results of the consultation is secret is incredibly damaging, raising further questions about whether the government plans to incorporate the feedback or simply march ahead with an extreme, deeply flawed proposal.
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The government’s consultation on its proposed approach to address harmful content online concluded over the weekend. The consultation was one of several consults that ran during the election period and which raise questions about whether policy makers are genuinely interested in incorporating feedback from Canadians. I submitted to all the various consultations and will be posting those submissions this week.
I start with my online harms submission. The full submission, which touches on issues such as 24 hour takedowns, website blocking, proactive monitoring, and enforcement, can be found here. To learn more about the issues, catch my Law Bytes podcast episode with Cynthia Khoo or listen to a terrific discussion that I had together with Daphne Keller on the Tech Policy Press Podcast. The submission opens with eight general comments that I’ve posted below:
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The Liberal party released its election platform yesterday and perhaps everything you need to know can be gleaned from the fact that Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault posted multiple tweets about plans for new cultural spending initiatives and Internet regulations in French without a single English language tweet. This is surely not a coincidence since the government’s digital policies have long been designed to curry favour in Quebec, even at risk of angering voters in the rest of Canada. Based on decision to forge ahead with Internet regulations with enormous implications for freedom of expression, alienating voters in the rest of Canada that have raised concerns with policies such as Bill C-10 is not a worry for the Liberal government.
Neither, it would seem, is the affordability of Internet and wireless services, which do not receive a single mention or direct policy measure. In doing so, the party has seemingly abandoned wireless competitiveness as an issue and unequivocally sided with the big telecom companies despite presiding over some of the world’s most expensive wireless services. The party platform is titled “Forward for Everyone” but not everyone moves forward in quite the same way with big telecom companies moving further ahead than Canadian consumers.
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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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