LILLEY: Trudeau hid public criticism of his online censorship plan | #socialmedia


That sort of secrecy is one reason we should reject it

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When the Trudeau government proposed introducing a “digital harms” bill last year, the response was swift and negative.

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Sold by the Liberals as a way to make the internet safer and remove illegal content, it was widely denounced as a plan to give sweeping and draconian powers to the government akin to censorship.

Faced with such widespread criticism, the government said they would go back to the drawing board and then to show everyone they were still all about openness and transparency, they hid most of the negative reaction they received. Imagine trying to assure people that your government wouldn’t engage in politically motivated removal of material online by hiding criticism of your government.

This past week, the critical proposals were released through an Access to Information request forced on the government by University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist. This is not a minor point as Geist himself pointed out.

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“The government’s determination to keep the consultations submissions secret until compelled to disclose them by law eviscerates its claims to support open, transparent government. There is simply no good reason to use secrecy as the default for a government consultation,” Geist wrote.

Especially not when you have been accused of wanting to expand government surveillance and censorship powers across the internet. These public submissions should have been readily available for all to see, but perhaps they were embarrassed by Twitter comparing the government’s actions to dictatorships.

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The social media platform compared the government’s proposal to block websites to tactics used in China, North Korea and Iran while also saying requiring “proactive monitoring of content sacrifices freedom of expression to the creation of a government run system of surveillance of anyone who uses Twitter.”

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There were 422 submissions, nearly universally critical of the proposed measures, including appointing a Digital Safety Commissioner. Yet the government’s own report on the feedback they received, called What We Heard and released earlier this year, makes it sound like there were some concerns raised but that it wasn’t that bad.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association warned blocking websites and giving a government bureaucrat censorship power online – like the Digital Safety Commissioner – would lead to less democratic countries enacting similar laws.

“Many countries look to Canada as a mature liberal democracy and may seek to emulate the tools developed for tackling online harms here,” the CCLA submission read.

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This proposal was not the Trudeau government’s first attempt to regulate the internet and it won’t be their last. While paying lip service to freedom expression as guaranteed in the Charter, the Liberals have shown a tendency towards Orwell’s Big Brother.

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Bill C-11, currently before Parliament seeks to regulate the podcasts or audiobooks you listen to, the streaming services you use for music or movies, under the guise of promoting Canadian content. Yet it would also give the CRTC, Canada’s broadcast regulators, sweeping power over what you watch, listen to, or read online.

Their stated reason for looking to deal with what they euphemistically call “online harms” is to give law enforcement powers to deal with terrorism or child sexual exploitation. No one wants to see child sexual exploitation continue online but the answer isn’t to give the government broad powers to censor what you see online.

The possibility that this could quickly turn to political censorship is all too real. The fact that the Liberal government tried to hide the negative feedback they received on these proposals should also give citizens pause for concern.

Giving any government these sorts of powers should be a non-starter for all Canadians.

blilley@postmedia.com

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