If the Liberals have their way, the era of net neutrality is over in Canada. Steven Guilbeault, our Canadian Minister of Heritage, would have you believe that the government is going after ‘web giants’ and trying to level the playing field between traditional and online broadcasters. In the typical Liberal fashion, this is an approach where we're made to believe that the government 'knows best,' with the bill accordingly seeking to increase the powers of the CRTC. The end result? An attempt to influence the content that Canadians have available to them. This holds true regardless of whether the much-discussed exemptions for user generated content are included with the legislation or not.
While I was working in politics in Ottawa in 2012, there was a similarly flawed piece of legislation getting hammered in the media and causing Conservative MPs consternation as their phone lines were flooded with angry constituents demanding their freedoms be protected. Bill C-30 was a well-intended piece of legislation meant to put the hammer down to online predators and others who would use the Internet for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately for The Hon. Vic Toews, the Minister of Public Safety at the time, Canadians weren’t too keen to have big brother tracking their online movements and identifying them by name through Internet Service Providers without a warrant. If there was any doubt about Canadians’ resolve to protect their freedoms, the Minister removed it when he stated Canadians “can stand with us or with the child predators”. In a nasty twist, an anonymous Twitter user decided to show the Minister what privacy intrusion looks like—posting details of his divorce for all to see. Shortly thereafter, Bill C-30 was put out to pasture, with Vic Toews resigning and retiring from federal politics a little over a year later. It was a nasty end to a torrid affair.
The full story of Bill C-30 can be seen here:
While C-10 attacks our freedoms from a different angle, it is probably even more flawed than Toews’ online surveillance bill. At stake here is freedom of expression, in the forms of press and free speech. Canada has a noteworthy history of blatantly disregarding freedom of expression, the most famous example would be the War Measures Act—enacted during both World Wars and by the elder Trudeau in the 1970 October Crisis.
Lesser known, but perhaps even more relevant to today’s discussion, is what went down in Alberta in 1937 when Premier William Aberhart, founder and first leader of the Alberta Social Credit Party, tried to limit the press from expressing anything critical of the government. The Accurate News and Information Act was a way for the provincial government to scan writings for anything they didn’t agree with; the government was to be allowed space in all publications to respond accordingly to ‘correct the record’. One cannot help but see this as the forbearer to today’s Facebook fact-checkers. This law was challenged to the level of the Supreme Court of Canada and Reference Re Alberta Statutes was heard in 1938 and rendered two famous judgements which are still referenced to this day in legal decisions made in relation to freedom of expression. Keeping in mind this decision came long before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms itself, Chief Justice Lyman Duff described an ‘implied bill of rights’ that could be ascertained from the contents of the British North America Act and that these rights include that of public discussion within limits of defamation and sedition. Aberhart’s ‘fact-checking’ bill was ruled unconstitutional and was not enacted into law.
See the historic Supreme Court of Canada decision here:
Bill C-10 is another tool of a government determined to interfere in the independence of media and Canadians’ access to independent thought. If they take it a step further and try to regulate user generated content and social media posts, they will find their legislation taken to the woodshed just like C-30 in 2012. If they simply aim to regulate the so-called ‘web giants’, they are still interfering with what should be a free market of expression. The CDC and CBSC have turned Canadian media into a cesspool of government yes men. They are unduly influenced by Canada’s oligopoly of ‘traditional broadcasters’.
As reported by the Huffington Post, Canada is the worst of all the G8 when it comes to the concentration of media ownership in the TV industry. This problem is not unique to the television industry, as Canadian media ownership as a whole is incredibly concentrated, lacks diversity, and has too many barriers to competition.
It seems to me that the powerful media interests within Canada have seen how Canadians have turned online due to their dissatisfaction with what traditional broadcasters in this country have to offer. This bill constitutes their desperate attempt to maintain their grip on the Canadian conscience. When Steven Guilbeault says that industry has asked for this legislation, it is established traditional broadcasters that he is referring to.
It is ironic that on May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day, the Liberal Government was ready to ram through legislation despite outcry from opposition parties and Canadians concerned about the possible infringement on their freedom of expression. The NDP request for delay is all that stopped them along with the Conservatives, who opposed this from the beginning.
John F. Kennedy once said that “a nation that is afraid to let it’s people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
My question to this government is this: what are you afraid of?