Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez created an Expert Advisory Group on Online Safety earlier this year to help craft a potential legislative and policy response to online safety and harms issues. The panel recently concluded its work and though the media focused on a failure to achieve absolute consensus from a group that by design had different views, the reality is that common ground was found on several key issues. Emily Laidlaw, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law at the University of Calgary, served as co-chair of the expert group. She joins the Law Bytes podcast to talk about how the panel functioned, where it found consensus, areas of disagreement, and what could come next for one of the thorniest Internet policy issues.
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The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 135: Co-Chair Emily Laidlaw on the Work of the Government’s Expert Advisory Group on Online Safety
Bill C-11, the government’s online streaming legislation, has caught the attention of the U.S. government, which raised it as a concern during a recent meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Canadian Minister of International Trade Mary Ng. The issue is cited in the U.S. readout of the meeting, though the Canadian readout of the same meeting notably excludes any reference to the issue. The readout specifically states that “Ambassador Tai expressed concern about Canada’s proposed digital service tax and pending legislation in the Canadian Parliament that could impact digital streaming services.” The reference to concerns with a digital services tax has been raised before, but the inclusion of Bill C-11 is new. The concerns may reflect Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s decision to regulate user generated content, an approach not found in any other country in the world.
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 134: Monica Auer on CRTC Governance, Content Regulation and the Radio-Canada Decision
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.
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).