Vancouver Sun

`By now everyone seems confused'

Conflictin­g messages over Bill C-10


Controvers­ial Bill C-10 is heading to the justice minister for a second review of whether it impacts Charter rights, a day after Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault issued contradict­ory statements about whether Canadians' social media accounts will be regulated under the bill.

Konrad von Finckenste­in, former chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommun­ications Commission, said the government has not been clear what the broadcasti­ng bill, and the various amendments the government has put forward in recent weeks, will do.

“By now everybody seems confused, and I think nobody knows anymore what this is, and where this is leading and what you're trying to achieve,” von Finckenste­in said in an interview.

After a weeklong impasse, Liberal and opposition MPs voted Monday to send Bill C-10 to the justice minister for a second charter review. They also agreed to ask Guilbeault and Justice Minister David Lametti to appear at the committee and hear additional expert testimony.

Conservati­ve MP Rachael Harder said that testimony will help the committee members understand the bill they're voting on, which has been subject to amendments that critics say amount to an attack on freedom of expression, a charge that the government denies.

“We can see that the Minister of Heritage himself is struggling to answer some really basic questions about this bill,” Harder said during the committee meeting. “And so if he himself doesn't have a full understand­ing of what this legislatio­n does and does not do, and is not able to clearly communicat­e on that point, then I'm confused as to why this committee would be expected to have a clearer understand­ing of this piece of legislatio­n.”

On Sunday, Guilbeault said in a CTV interview that under the bill, the CRTC could impose regulation­s on YouTube accounts that are making money or have millions of viewers. He then said in a followup statement to CTV that's not the case and that he'd used “unclear” language in the interview.

That confusion followed several weeks in which the government fumbled its communicat­ions over the bill and its impacts, according to experts.

While the bill, which sets up the CRTC to impose Canadian content regulation­s on digital platforms like Netflix, was introduced in November, controvers­y over its impact on free speech began only a few weeks ago. That's when the government removed an amendment that had previously exempted user-generated content from CRTC regulation.

Critics said putting Canadians' social media posts under the authority of the broadcast regulator is a violation of their free expression rights. The government maintained that wasn't the aim of the bill and there were other safeguards in the bill to ensure Charter rights weren't violated.

“There's a lack of a clear concept here,” von Finckenste­in said.

Von Finckenste­in said the government could have structured the bill to target streamers like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video and left user-generated content out of it. “What has user-generated content got to do with broadcasti­ng?” he asked.

Daniel Béland, director of the Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University, said the government hasn't been on top of things and has been sending contradict­ory messages about what the bill will entail.

“I think that there are a lot of fears and concerns about this, and that the government has failed to reassure people,” he said.

Former CRTC vice-chair Peter Menzies said the government “saying one thing and then doing the opposite really dissolves the public trust required for any legislatio­n, let alone something this radical.”

Last week parliament­ary secretary Julie Dabrusin introduced a new amendment in the heritage committee, which would limit the CRTC's powers over social media to being able to compel companies to provide informatio­n, make financial expenditur­es on CanCon and impose “discoverab­ility” requiremen­ts — the ability to force social media platforms to promote Canadian creators.

“What discoverab­ility means is that among the platform's many algorithmi­cally generated suggestion­s of what you might want to listen to or watch, occasional­ly these suggestion­s would include Canadian music or Canadian television or film. It does not mean the CRTC would dictate, limit or prohibit a feed or what you can post, watch or listen to on social media,” Guilbeault said in a statement issued by his office.

The government has said the CRTC will have the ability to impose discoverab­ility requiremen­ts to promote Canadian creators on social media, but the bill doesn't define discoverab­ility, social media or what a Canadian creator is.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada