Timothy M. Denton

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On C11: the new edition of C10

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Lipstick on the same old pig. I will let Peter Menzies say it for me. 

There has been a lot of talk about liberty lately. Some, like those in the truckers’ convoys and blockades, want a lot more of it. Others, startled at the prospect of mingling with the unvaccinated and unmasked, want less of it, as does the Trudeau government, which on Feb. 14 invoked the Emergencies Act.

 

If those positions translate into a similar fracturing of perspectives over the government’s coming crackdown on Canadians’ ability to communicate online, divisions in our society are unlikely to heal in the months ahead.

The Trudeau government is throwing its cloak over the online world by granting the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) authority over the global internet and, likely, adding a second regulator to squelch Canadian speech it deems problematic.

Sure, the government says its new legislation isn’t as bad as its widely-condemned initial effort last year, but the differences between then and now are, according to experts such as Mark Mancini and Dr. Michael Geist, entirely cosmetic.

“The Trudeau government re-introduced the same pig with different lipstick,” wrote Mancini, a Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law.

In other words, all the concerns about regulatory overreach and the ability of the CRTC to meddle with social media posts that were raised in last spring’s furor over Bill C-10 are still alive (if hidden with a little blush) in new Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s Bill C-11.

“Not only does the government permit by stealth what it says it has amended in the Bill to prevent, but it does it here by delegating to the CRTC,” Mancini wrote in an analysis posted by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. “I do not see this legal device, and this Bill as any better than Bill C-10.”

Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce law at the University of Ottawa, put it this way:

“There was an opportunity to use the re-introduction of the bill to fully exclude user generated content (no other country in the world regulates content this way), limit the scope of the bill to a manageable size, and create more certainty and guidance for the CRTC. Instead, the government has left the prospect of treating Internet content as programs subject to regulation in place, envisioned the entire globe as subject to Canadian broadcast jurisdiction, increased the power of the regulator, and done little to answer many of the previously unanswered questions.”

So far, with everyone distracted by the truckers’ protests, there isn’t a lot of light being shone on this remarkably intimidating legislation, so expect Rodriguez to plow ahead and open the door to regulation of social media posts and podcasts (to the detriment of Canada’s online creators by the way, but that’s an aspect to be explored on another day).

But wait, there are even more bad ideas on the way.

Rodriguez’s predecessor, Steven Guilbeault, proposed thuggish “online harms” legislation that would create yet another regulator to patrol the internet for suspect activity, order takedowns, and digitally report suspicious speech straight to the police. The feedback from legal and civil liberties experts was so overwhelmingly negative, Rodriguez was forced to rethink the approach. But an approach there will be. And, given how little difference there is between bills C-10 and C-11, there is every reason to worry.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) called the first online harms proposal “a radical policy change … excessive in scope, effect and purpose.”

“The proposal merges communications policy/regulation with public safety, national security and law enforcement concerns in a way that is quite troubling,” wrote the CCLA’s Cara Zwibel in her submission to Heritage Canada.

OpenMedia’s Matt Hatfield called the first effort “a cynical plan to make Canada’s Internet one of the most censored and surveilled in the democratic world.”

“Either our government does not understand the consequences of their own proposal, or they’re lying to us,” he wrote. “Far from simply duplicating our norms around offline speech, this proposal will create an unprecedented system of online surveillance of ordinary people in Canada and normalize the removal of much entirely lawful online speech.”

One can always hope that reason and liberty prevail, but the instincts of the nation’s current leadership when it comes to upholding that which is at the very core of democracy—freedom of expression—do not offer a foundation for optimism. All the inclinations expressed by the Trudeau government so far indicate it firmly believes that the exchange of ideas between citizens is something that should only be done under its watch and with its approval.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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Timothy Denton is a lawyer by training who practices principally in telecommunications and Internet policy and domain name issues, with a strong concentration on explaining what the technology is and what it means.

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Guest Sunday, 27 November 2022
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