The Liberal government is working to regulate away internet freedom, and far too many people are going to let it happen.
My summary of Bill C-10 is not an exaggeration. The bill, which is currently under committee review, will vastly expand the jurisdiction of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission when it comes to the internet. Internet content, specifically.
Framed by the Liberals as a way to make the big players profiting from online content pay – Facebook, Google, and the like – the bill actually has sweeping implications for those who contribute the content. This includes yours truly and the very website on which you’re reading this column.
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has said a great deal about what this bill, he claims, won’t do. It’s not about your cat videos. It won’t infringe on free speech. It won’t go after news websites. It won’t go after videos you post on YouTube. Yadda yadd yadda. All of this is untrue, suggesting he hasn’t read the bill he’s been championing in recent weeks or is deliberately obfuscating as to its power.
When Guilbeault tabled the bill initially he was quite clear that content users post to websites like Twitter and YouTube will be exempt from CRTC regulation. Last week, Liberal MPs on the House of Commons heritage committee stripped that exemption from the bill, meaning despite Guilbeault’s proclamations your cat memes and YouTube videos are not actually that safe at all, in theory.
The eventualities of this are quite clear. Guilbeault has spoken at various points of his press tour about a “kill switch” to take offending websites offline and mandating licensing for website publishers, to offer up two of the more egregious examples. Every time he drops one of these possibilities, he invariably backtracks on it later, yet these inadvertent moments of candour are entirely consistent with the amended bill.
It doesn’t take a civil liberties expert or internet law expert to see the problems with C-10, but those folks have certainly piped up with their concerns.
“The kind of speech that many Canadians engage in on these platforms is just basic, fundamental freedom of expression that does not require, and should not be subject to, any sort of regulation or regulatory oversight by a broadcast regulator,” said University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist, who has been beating the drum about C-10 for months but without much pick-up by the mainstream media until recent weeks.
In a particularly awkward CBC interview last week Guilbeault struggled to respond to any of the substantive criticisms of the bill, simply restating, ad nauseum, the same talking points about how it’s about making Big Tech pay.
Conservative MP Rachael Harder also put the screws to Guilbeault in Question Period, pushing him to address the free speech concerns.
In response, Guilbeault accused the Conservatives of pandering to the “extremist element” with the party and then inexplicably pivoted to abortion access and climate change.
While it’s easy to roll one’s eyes at the Liberals continued smears of their political opponents as extremists and conspiracy theorists, these charges are precisely why they and other politicians can’t be trusted to regulate the internet.
C-10 is concerning enough on its own, but is also the first part of a one-two punch the government is planning to fulfill later this year with a bill regulating supposed hate speech. Despite there already being a criminal threshold for hate speech that is high enough to stay within the bounds of the Canadian constitution, the Liberals claim another law is needed to regulate online speech. This is only needed because, by the government’s admission, they intend to lower the bar on hate speech when it comes to human rights legislation.
Between these two bills the government will have the power to start zapping YouTube accounts if someone says something a murky bureaucratic definition suggests is “hate,” even if it doesn’t come within ten city blocks of the actual criminal definition of hate speech.
It’s easy for the government to claim it’s taking a big hammer to Google, Facebook and Twitter – companies most would agree have become necessary evils that need to be taken down a few pegs. However, anything that regulates content will invariably regulate these platforms’ users more than the platforms themselves, and this is an inconvenient truth the Liberals just won’t acknowledge.
Photo Credit: The Hindu
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