The Liberal government’s effort to regulate social-media content amounts to censorship of political speech it doesn’t like, charged Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole on Thursday.
O’Toole made the comment during question period, after the government amended C-10 in its final stages of committee review to include social media and user-generated content, which the bill has long excluded.
“Why is (Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault) and the Liberal government the most anti-internet government in Canadian history?” O’Toole asked in the House.
READ MORE: Ottawa’s targeting web giants, not media licences, says Minister Guilbeault. But what’s his plan?
Bill C-10 was designed to update the Broadcasting Act to include online streaming services, which would allow Canada’s broadcast regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to seek financial contributions from online broadcasters such as Netflix, Spotify, Crave, and Disney Plus.
The bill would give the CRTC the power to: regulate these online streaming services; mandate contribution payments for the creation of Canadian content; order discoverability requirements; and introduce fines for non-compliance.
The House of Commons’ Heritage committee has been studying the proposed legislation since Feb. 1. The exclusion of social media and user-generated content from the CRTC’s purview was removed Friday, as the committee prepares to send the bill back to the House.
The change means that user-generated content, meaning posts to social media, would be subject to oversight from broadcast regulators, as would social-media providers.
It’s a “giant step too far,” and likely an unconstitutional regulation of speech, said Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa, in his blog.
“As a result of the decision, the CRTC will determine what terms and conditions will be attached to the speech of millions of Canadians on sites like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and hundreds of other services, should the bill become law,” he wrote.
READ MORE: Feds have no intentions to license news organizations, Heritage Minister clarifies
Guilbeault fielded several questions about the controversial amendment on Thursday, including from Tory MP Rachael Harder, who said the government’s amendment removed the one section that would have protected Canadians from government censorship.
The government, Harder said, is trying to control what Canadians can view online, and is mimicking “basic dictatorship.”
The official Opposition is simply “afraid” to stand up to wealthy corporations, the minister responded.
“It seems that the Conservative Party is listening to the most extremist element of their party,” Guilbeault said.
In a statement on Wednesday, Alain Rayes, the Conservative critic for Canadian Heritage, urged the government to scrap changes to C-10 that would regulate social media.
He referred to former CRTC commissioner Peter Menzies, who called the Liberals’ move a a “full-blown assault” on free expression and on “the foundations of democracy.”
“Conservatives support creating a level playing field between large, foreign streaming services and Canadian broadcasters, but not at the cost of Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms,” Rayes said. “With these changes to the legislation, there is clear proof the Liberals are targeting everyday Canadians who use their phones. This is unacceptable in a society that values its freedom.”