Published:June 4, 2021
The Liberal government moved Friday to limit debate in order to push through the controversial Bill C-10, a motion that was delayed from coming to a vote in the House of Commons due to a Conservative filibuster.
The Bloc Québécois supports the motion, giving the minority Liberals the votes needed to pass it, once it comes to a vote. The motion would limit the ongoing work at the House heritage committee to amend the bill clause-by-clause, which has been delayed due to concerns about the bill’s impact on free speech, to five more hours.
“Censoring the voices of creators wasn’t enough. Now, they’re having to stop members of parliament from debating this atrocious bill at committee,” Conservative MP Rachael Harder said in the House of Commons. “The government doesn’t want any more problems to be discovered with the bill … and so now they’re shutting us down.”
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault responded that unless the government limited time for debate, it would take too long to go through the remaining amendments. “If we continue going at the rate we’re going now, in six months’ time from now the bill would still be in front of the committee,” he responded.
The Bloc has been pushing the government to introduce time allocation on the bill since mid-May, in order to ensure it passes through parliament before summer break in June. The bill updates the Broadcasting Act and sets up the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to impose Canadian content rules on digital platforms like streaming services, including requiring them to pay contributions towards the creation of CanCon.
The Bloc says it wants the bill to pass quickly because of its importance to Quebec cultural industry, and the Liberals argue delaying the bill amounts to withholding much-needed funds from the Canadian cultural sector. In a statement Friday, Guilbeault said the Conservative filibuster caused an “additional week of undue delays in the study of this important legislation” and is “costing the creative sector yet another $16M this week alone.”
The clause-by-clause process at committee was interrupted a month ago, after the Liberal government removed a section of the bill that had excluded user-generated content from CRTC regulation. That kicked off a wave of controversy as critics said government regulation of social media content was a violation of free speech. The committee suspended work to send the bill to the justice minister for a review of whether the amended legislation complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Prior to that review, the Liberal government introduced another amendment that limited the CRTC’s powers over social media content to “discoverability.” That meant the only regulations it could impose on posts on platforms like YouTube were rules forcing platforms to recommend Canadian content. That and other amendments were enough to satisfy the Bloc’s concerns over free expression.
Critics and the Conservatives argue the CRTC’s power to impose those discoverability requirements is still a violation of free speech because it gives a government regulator power over what social media content is prioritized. Harder said at committee Monday that amounts to “being dictated to by a government-designed algorithm.”
Google, which owns YouTube, said Wednesday it was “deeply concerned about the possible unintended consequences” of the bill.
If Bill C-10 “were to go into effect as currently written, people would be seeing suggestions not based on their personal preferences or even what is most relevant, but what the government decides is ‘Canadian,’ ” the company said in a blog post.
It added that the rules on the definition of Canadian content are complex, and indicated that could particularly affect “new and emerging creators,” compared to “players who have been following these rules for decades.”
Google added that if other countries follow Canada’s lead, that could mean “our creators and stories get less reach around the world, impacting the businesses and livelihoods of thousands of entrepreneurial Canadians.”
The B.C. Library Trustees Association also waded into the debate this week, sharing online its May letter to the committee urging it to reinstate the exemption for social media content that was removed in April. A Conservative motion to do just that was voted down at committee by the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Monday.
“The BCLTA board endorses freedom of expression as a core principle of Canadian librarianship. Public libraries are impartial collectors and distributors of knowledge in its many forms, including Internet social media,” the letter said. “For many Canadians, their public library is the only place where they can participate in online discourse or create and publish end-user content. This makes the Internet an essential tool for Canadians exercising their right to freedom of speech.”
If C-10 passes in the House of Commons, it still has to be voted through the Senate before it becomes law. Critics have warned that even if that happens, it may not be end of the battle over the bill, given that it could face a charter challenge in the courts.