The federal Liberals sparked an uproar over a bid Friday morning to shut down committee study on its controversial Bill C-10, as experts continue to express concern about the impact the legislation could have on free speech online.
The Liberals moved a time allocation motion for the bill on Friday morning, a procedural move that crunches the time allotted to discussing a bill and is normally used to limit hours of debate in the House of Commons — not at committees.
The bill has been stalled before committee and as the government faces down the ticking clock towards the end of the parliamentary session on June 23.
The motion briefly sparked vocal criticism from opposition parties in the House of Commons Friday before the assistant deputy speaker moved on to let MPs give their regularly scheduled statements ahead of question period.
But it could come back up for discussion next week and, should the motion pass, the committee will be restricted to just five more hours of discussion of the bill — then they’ll have to move it along.
Broadly, the bill aims to modernize the Broadcasting Act — which saw its last major reform in 1991 before the internet was widely available — to reflect the fact that Canadians consume things like music, movies and news differently nowadays, often using streaming services or social media.
The proposed law hopes to extend Canadian content requirements to these online platforms, ensuring the companies pay into cultural funds and display a certain amount of Canadian content.
Bill C-10 became a source of parliamentary discord after the Liberals removed a section of the bill that protected user-generated content and exempted it from regulation. That meant Canadians’ Facebook and Instagram posts could be forced to abide by certain CRTC rules.
And while it’ll be up to the CRTC to draft exactly what those regulations might look like, experts have warned this could allow the CRTC to regulate anything they’d like on social media.
“Social media companies (would be) legally responsible for all these videos that users post as though they’re somehow broadcasting programs,” Emily Laidlaw, Canada Research Chair in cybersecurity law at the University of Calgary, said in an interview with Global News in early May.
A former CRTC vice-chair echoed her concerns shortly after Section 4.1 was dropped from the bill.
“It’s your Facebook post. It’s your tweet. It’s your cat videos. It’s your pictures of your children and grandchildren and that sort of stuff,” said Peter Menzies, who is also a past newspaper publisher.
“What it means is that somebody will be watching that, from the government, or a government regulator, and will be able to order it to be taken down if they find that it doesn’t suit whatever purposes they have.”
The concerns prompted opposition MPs to request that the justice department took a second look at the charter statement for the bill. The result of that analysis, which was signed off on by Justice Minister David Lametti himself, found the proposed legislation doesn’t unduly tread on Canadians’ charter-affirmed rights.
“It is our position that the bill as tabled and these proposed amendments are consistent with the charter,” said Lametti, speaking to the Canadian heritage committee at the time.
In a bid to quash concerns about the bill’s impact on individual users, the government has also amended it to refine the areas of social media that the CRTC would be empowered to regulate.
The amendments left the CRTC with just three areas of regulation:
- The CRTC will be able to ask a platform how much revenue it makes.
- The CRTC will be able to ask for a certain percentage of those revenues to be funneled into Canadian cultural production funds.
- Finally, it will be empowered to provide discoverability requirements for Canadian creators — meaning the CRTC can draft certain rules, like forcing a certain amount of content from the Arkells, Celine Dion or other Canadian artists to pop up in your recommended videos.
However, some experts weren’t convinced.
“The amendments introduced following that simply confirmed that user generated content, which is speech, will be subject to regulation. So we’re right back where we started,” said Menzies, reacting to the amendments shortly after they were put forward.
But Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is standing behind his bill.
“Bill C-10 respects the charter of rights and freedoms and not only that, but there are mechanisms in place for the CRTC to ensure that they do that,” he said.
“They have discretionary powers, but these powers are not absolute and that they have to be exercised in the light of the charter of rights and freedoms.”
— With files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly