Freedom of speech has long been a cherished principle in most Western democracies.
While Canadians don’t have the same passion for free speech that our American friends do, we’ve always recognized the importance of preserving and protecting this value in times of war and peace.
Until recently, that is.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government have launched what could arguably be the single biggest attack on free speech in our country’s history. If it passes, this draconian piece of legislation would have a chilling effect on the rights and freedoms of all Canadians.
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On Nov. 3, 2020, the government announced an amendment to the Broadcasting Act, or Bill C-10. It would “add online undertakings – undertakings for the transmission or retransmission of programs over the Internet – as a distinct class of broadcasting undertakings.”
The amendment would “specify that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (the “Commission”) must regulate and supervise the Canadian broadcasting system.”
It would also “replace the Commission’s power to impose conditions on a licence with a power to make orders imposing conditions on the carrying on of broadcasting undertakings.”
The government gave itself a helping hand last Friday by tossing out Section 4.1 of Bill C-10. That section prevented the CRTC’s overreach from extending to social media. As it read in the existing bill, “This Act does not apply in respect of (a) programs that are uploaded to an online undertaking that provides a social media service by a user of the service – who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them – for transmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service; and (b) online undertakings whose broadcasting consists only of such programs.”
What does all this mean?
The federal government, through the auspices of the CRTC, could have the power to direct, regulate and shut down social media platforms. This could include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, TikTok and others.
As former CRTC commissioner Peter Menzies told the National Post on April 30, this shift doesn’t “just infringe on free expression, it constitutes a full-blown assault upon it and, through it, the foundations of democracy.”
Unsurprisingly, the feds have repeatedly denied this was ever their intention.
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told Parliament on March 8, “There’s no censorship in Canadian broadcasting right now. … What we’re trying to do is apply that regulatory framework to online broadcasters. In the case of YouTube, for example, we’re not particularly interested in what people … you know, when my great-uncle posts pictures of his cats, that’s not what we’re interested in as a legislator.”
Lest we forget, Guilbeault is the same minister who spoke glowingly about the need for a federal regulator in February. It would enforce a “Canadian code of conduct,” whatever that entailed, and impose “very, very important fines” against businesses that refused to comply with this authoritarian edict.
And besides, if the minister really doesn’t care about legislating cat pictures on YouTube, why would his government have eliminated the one section in Bill C-10 that ensured it would never focus on social media activity?
After taking their lumps from both sides of the political aisle, the Liberals realize they’re fighting a losing battle. So much so that Guilbeault actually tweeted on Monday that they never regarded social media platforms like Facebook and TikTok as broadcasters and “we will be bringing forward another amendment that will make this crystal clear.”
Here’s a far better strategy.
The Liberals should apologize for engaging in this idiocy and drop this offensive amendment altogether. Instead, they should preserve and protect free speech like most other Liberal governments have done before them (albeit imperfectly).
Canadians from both sides of the political aisle would speak freely in favour of this alternative approach.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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Troy Media is an editorial content provider to media outlets and its own hosted community news outlets across Canada.