The government’s defence of Bill C-10, the Broadcasting Act reform bill, took another hit over the weekend with what might have been the worst interview yet by Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault (and that includes the CBC interview ten days ago that people are still talking about). In the span of eight minutes, Guilbeault managed to cite the wrong section in the bill, indicate that social media users with a large number of followers would be regulated, and justify the regulation by assuring that it would come from the CRTC, rather than the government directly.
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Heritage Minister Guilbeault Says Bill C-10 Will Regulate Social Media Users With Large Number of Viewers
This past week Bill C-10, Internet free speech, and the government’s digital policy agenda went mainstream as a lead topic in government, the media, and among many Canadians. This week’s Law Bytes podcast departs from the standard format as I explain why the bill has suddenly become a hot topic, how the government has been inconsistent and at times incoherent in its attempts to justify the bill, and why the concerns regarding freedom of speech and CRTC over-regulation are absolutely justified.
Regulating What Canadians See Online: Why Bill C-10 Would Establish CRTC-Approved TikTok, Youtube and Instagram Feeds
The uproar over Bill C-10 has rightly focused on the government’s decision to remove safeguards for user generated content from the bill. Despite insistence from Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault that users will not be regulated and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that users will not be required to make Cancon contributions, the reality is that the removal of Section 4.1 from the bill means that all user generated content is treated as a “program” under the Act and therefore subject to regulation by the CRTC.
That regulation is extensive and can include “discoverability” requirements that would allow the regulator to mandate that platforms prioritize some users’ content over others. Section 9.1(1)(b) of the bill states:
The Commission may, in furtherance of its objects, make orders imposing conditions on the carrying on of broadcasting undertakings that the Commission considers appropriate for the implementation of the broadcasting policy set out in subsection 3(1), including conditions respecting
(b) the presentation of programs for selection by the public, including the discoverability of Canadian programs;
Since the government is now treating user generated content as a program under the Act, this effectively reads that the CRTC can establish conditions respecting the presentation of user generated content for selection by the public, including the discoverability of user generated content.
My new Macleans op-ed notes that government legislation tends to attract a wide range of responses. Some bills grab the spotlight and become sources of heated debate for months, while others fly under the radar screen with few Canadians taking notice. Until recently, Bill C-10, the government’s Broadcasting Act reform bill, fell into the latter category. Introduced last November as part of Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault’s mission to “make web giants pay”, the bill was steadily and stealthily working its way through the Parliamentary process with only a few days of “clause by clause” review left before a final reading and vote in the House of Commons.
Yet last week, the bill was thrust onto the front page of newspapers across the country with the public seizing on an unexpected change that opened the door to government regulation of the Internet content posted by millions of Canadians. The change involved the removal of a clause that exempted from regulation user generated content on social media services such as TikTok, Youtube, and Facebook. The government had maintained that it had no interest in regulating user generated content, but the policy reversal meant that millions of video, podcasts, and the other audiovisual content on those popular services would be treated as “programs” under Canadian law and subject to some of the same rules as those previously reserved for programming on conventional broadcast services.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 86: CCLA’s Cara Zwibel on the Free Speech Risks of Bill C-10 and the Guilbeault Internet Plan
The public debate on Bill C-10 recently took a dramatic turn after the government unexpectedly removed legal safeguards designed to ensure the CRTC would not regulate user generated content. The resulting backlash has left political columnists comparing Canada to China in censoring the Internet, opposition MPs launching petitions with promises to fight back against the bill, and Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault struggling to coherently answer questions about his own bill.
Cara Zwibel is the Director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and one of Canada’s leading experts on freedom of expression. She joins the Law Bytes podcast to talk both about Bill C-10 and the free speech risks that may come from another bill that Guilbeault has been discussing that could include website blocking, a social media regulator, and mandated Internet takedowns.