Members of Congress agree to a legal review of the broadcasting bill on freedom of speech

Members of the House of Commons Heritage Committee today agreed to suspend detailed review of the Federal Government’s Broadcasting Act, while the Department of Justice will investigate whether the recent amendment violates the right to freedom of expression of social media users.

Members of the Conservative Party, Liberal Party, Bloc and New Democracy Party all voted for the “Charter Statement” calling for amendments to the C-10 Bill. The Attorney General issued such a statement to study the potential impact of the new law on the rights of Canadians from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The bill also requires Attorney General David Lametti, Canadian Heritage Minister Stephen Gilbert, and a panel of experts to attend the committee to discuss the meaning of the recent amendments to the bill and ask questions to committee members.

Today’s vote broke the deadlock of the committee that lasted for several weeks and was a loss to the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party hopes that while the Ministry of Justice is preparing an updated charter statement, it will continue to review the legislation article by article.

On the contrary, while the committee was waiting to review the charter statement and listen to the opinions of ministers and experts, the review was put on hold.

Free speech turmoil

Guilbeault proposed the C-10 bill, which aims to bring digital streaming media services into the jurisdiction of the Broadcasting Law. This will enable Canada’s radio and television regulator, the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to require them to contribute to the creation, production and promotion of Canadian content, similar to how the CRTC now regulates radio and television content.

The bill came under fire after the committee deleted a clause that would exclude user-generated content posted on social media sites from CRTC supervision.

The government stated that this exclusion will save YouTube from following the reporting requirements and obligations applicable to streaming media sites such as Spotify, Netflix and Amazon, thereby contributing to the development of Canadian culture.

But legal experts believe that these changes give the CRTC the right to regulate the posts that millions of Canadians upload to platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube every day, which they believe violates the right to the Charter of Freedom of Expression.

Liberals proposed amendments to the bill last week to clarify the role of CRTC. The amendment proposes to allow CRTC to require these sites to make Canadian content more visible to Canadian users.

The amendment failed to quell critics.

Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa said: “Gilbert and the government promised to remove CRTC’s regulation of user-generated content. On the contrary… it effectively confirmed that the denial of the impact of the bill was inaccurate and left behind Regulatory framework. The professor and chair of Canadian Studies on Internet Law recently wrote on his blog.

Conservative MP Rachael Harder accused the Liberal Party of trying to censor users of social media platforms during a question in the House of Commons. (Canada Press)

Although Gilbert insisted that CRTC regulations only apply to professional content posted on platforms that act as broadcasters, he was covered in water on weekends.

In an interview with CTV Interrogation period, Gilbert (Guilbeault) seems to suggest that C-10 will allow the CRTC to implement discoverability regulations for individuals who have a large number of online fans or who generate substantial revenue from their online content. Gilbert’s office later went back and stated that individuals who used social media would never be considered broadcasters.

In today’s press conference, Liberal Party Member Julie Dabrusin reiterated the Liberal Party’s position that any obligations imposed by the CRTC only apply to the platform. Da Bruson said that such obligations include:

  • Allow CRTC to request foreign companies to provide information about their income in Canada.
  • Force them to pay funds to support Canadian musicians, writers and artists.
  • Ask them to make Canadian content more visible on their platform.

Dabrusin accused the Conservative Party of delaying committee work in the past two weeks.

Conservative MPs are particularly opposed to the current C-10, saying it will lead to government censorship of the Internet.

During the questioning period in the House of Commons today, MP Rachael Harder, a digital government critic of the Conservative Party, accused the Liberal Party of launching attacks on YouTubers to censor content posted on social media.

Gilbert (Guilbeault) responded that the bill is not about what Canadians can or cannot post online. He said the bill would ensure that large streaming media companies “pay their due share” and make Canadian content easier to discover on their platforms.

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