As Canadian Government Shuts Down Debate, Doubts Rise on Bill C-11 Passage Before Summer Break

Time is ticking down before the Summer break. Despite silencing debate to the extreme, passing Bill C-11 before that break is looking doubtful.

The current iteration of the governments war on the open Internet might be running into a snag. Already, the Liberal government is currently trying to do the unthinkable and delay investigations into sexual assault just so they can move forward with their Internet censorship legislation. Even more shockingly, Liberals defended their actions by playing down the importance of investigating such serious allegations. When one MP essentially said that sexual assault is no big deal, I personally called that MP out over the morality of taking the stance that sexual assault is ‘just Conservative filibuster’. In response, that MP blocked me for daring to call anything him and his government did into question. the message is clear, the Liberals cannot withstand even the mildest of criticism.

The question is, why do this? Why sweep sexual assault under the rug like it’s some stupid minor unimportant pet project by a handful of back benchers? After all, with the supply and confidence deal with the NDP, there is no threat of an election. What’s more is that the Bloc is openly and willingly throwing Quebeckers under the bus by supporting Internet censorship in the first place. So, one way or another, there is no threat, at this stage, that such legislation will die on the order paper and an election isn’t going to be called any time soon. Well, there is some questionable thinking involved here.

According to the Senate sitting calendar, the last senate meeting is scheduled to take place on the 16th which is this Thursday. There are two additional sitting weeks after that, but if the legislation needs a meeting day, then the deadline to get it through, for now, is this Thursday. Assuming that this does make it through, then it will be brought back to the House of Commons. There isn’t a lot of sitting days left in the House, either. According to the sitting Calendar, you only have until next Thursday before the House rises for the Summer. While we are not entirely familiar with the process of a bill receiving Royal Assent after a vote, this seems like a tight deadline to get this done before the Summer break.

If the bill gets stalled at any point (and those on the Internet are certainly hoping that this happens) to miss any critical date along the way, then the government will go into Summer break without the passage of Bill C-11. According to the sitting schedule in the House of Commons, the next opportunity to get the ball rolling is September 19th onward. This means Canada will have a whole Summer of reprieve without worrying about the government suppressing their voices or when (or if) things start taking effect.

At this point, the question you might be having is, why not just wait until the Fall to just pass this and avoid all of this unnecessary BS? That, admittedly, is a question we don’t even have an answer to. In the grand scheme of things, what difference does it make between passage before the Summer break and passage sometime in the Fall? There is, after all, no risk of an election here. Still, the Liberals are trying to pass this law at any and all costs before the break happens. What’s more is that they are taking some rather extreme measures to do this. From Michael Geist:

Liberal MPs have shown little interest throughout the committee process in engaging with criticisms and concerns associated with the bill. The vast majority of their questions were directed toward supportive witnesses with softball requests to explain why the Broadcasting Act or Bill C-11 is important. The so-called equivalent of “five weeks” of hearings is a gross exaggeration, reflecting dubious claims that four days of hearings with multiple sessions is equivalent of five typical weeks of committee hearings. In fact, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather let slip during debate on Friday that even that was more than the government wanted (the committee plan for witnesses was held in camera and was not public), stating:

Originally, three of the four parties at the committee thought that a certain number of hours would be sufficient to hear from witnesses. The Conservative members then proposed 20 hours, which was more than the other parties thought needed to be given to witnesses, given that many of these witnesses had already been there for Bill C-10. However, the rest of the members of the committee agreed to accede to the request from the Conservatives and provide 20 hours to hear from witnesses.

In other words, the government that now wants to cut debate, wanted fewer hearings on the bill from the very outset of the committee process.

While there is a case for a motion to set a deadline for submission of amendments and to begin clause-by-clause review, the government’s motion extends to the entire remaining House of Commons process. The submission deadline will come just hours after the motion is passed on Monday and clause-by-clause review will start the following day, leaving little time to actually assess the proposed amendments. The clause-by-clause process is only given a maximum of nine hours, which is simply an unreasonably short period of time to review each amendment, ask questions of department officials, propose potential sub-amendments, and vote on each one. The government knows this, hence it requires that after nine hours, the committee simply vote on each remaining amendment with no discussion, questions or debate. Those amendments will not even be read aloud, meaning that the public will not know what is being voted on. This form of secret law making is an astonishing abuse of law making transparency norms. After clause-by-clause review, the government then limits the time available for report stage and third reading, meaning many MPs may not have the opportunity to put their views on the public record in the House of Commons.

What makes the approach indefensible is not only the curtailing of democratic debate and review, but the fact that it is entirely unnecessary given that there is no deadline for passing Bill C-11 and nothing turns on the bill passing through the House of Commons before the summer recess. The decision to dispense with debate and rush through Bill C-11 is entirely a political decision designed to allow Minister Rodriguez to claim victory in ushering the bill through the House of Commons. Even if the bill passes the House this month, it will require extensive review at the Senate in the fall, need an accompanying policy direction, and will be the subject of years of hearings at the CRTC before it takes effect. As far as political victories go, this is pretty thin gruel and a massive price to pay for sacrificing the democratic governance principles that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised would guide his government.

Geist further noted on Twitter this:

Govt giving Bill C-11 clause-by-clause review max of 9 hours, an unreasonable amount of time to review each amendment, ask questions, propose sub-amendments, and vote. After 9 hours, MPs vote on remaining amendments with no discussion, questions or debate.

None of this, as horrific as it sounds, is uncharted territory. During the last government when there was debate over a nearly identical (in practice) law known as Bill C-10, the Canadian government had undergone a similar secret lawmaking process where amendments to the legislation are not made public and voted on by letters and numbers only. Debate was simply cut off thanks to “gag orders” (governments term, not ours) on the democratic process. Essentially, the government does not want questions or discussion, just passage and an order for everyone to just shut the **** up about it.

While the legislation was eventually made public, the damage was already done. What’s more, the Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that the committee overstepped their authority when they partook in this secret lawmaking process. He ordered a re-print of the legislation without the amendments on top of it all. While this only proved to be a legislative minor speed bump as lawmakers quickly re-voted on the amendments and pushed the legislation through that part of the process anyway.

Well, minor speed bump or not, there was simply not enough to get the law passed as the bill died on the orderpaper. This was thanks to the government, ironically, calling a snap election as they hoped to get a majority government (they ultimately never got it). So many problems with the Bill C-10 fiasco was completely self-inflicted and the Liberal government took a lot of flack for it.

So, while a looming election was definitely a motivating factor, that motivating factor simply doesn’t exist here today. Yet, the government seems bent on repeating the exact same mistakes of the past to ram this law through anyway. Some of you with long memories might point to the Liberal party platform and bring up the 100 day deadline. “100 days” is, of course, vague because it doesn’t distinguish between calendar days and House of Commons sitting days. If they are going by sitting days, then their deadline would be October 26th which is, again, after the Summer break. Even then, an argument can be made that this is an arbitrary deadline in the first place. If it takes 101 sitting days, it’s not as though the party is going to get sued for breach of contract or anything like that.

In all likelihood, this is probably a case where legacy media outlets have lobbied hard to get this law passed yesterday and the Liberal MPs simply trying to follow their marching orders. The last thing they want is their corporate bosses being disappointed in them. Even then though, it’s hard to see the needle moving in the grand scheme of things if those corporate masters are disappointed in the first place. Nothing really changes if this bill gets delayed until the Fall.

Still, this thirst to censor the Internet, ruining the lives of digital first content creators, and controlling what Canadian users can and cannot see is palpable with this government. So, how likely is it that the government can meet this current arbitrary deadline of before the Summer break? This is apparently being called into question even by some within the Liberal party camp:

Government stating the obvious: Senate won’t pass Bill C-11 before summer. While I get pressing committee to get to clause by clause, why cut off debate on amendments in advance? Why limit future House debate? Nothing turns on passing bill before summer.

So, with each passing day, the clock continues to tick. As the clock continues to tick, the odds of passage before the Summer break continues to go down. The battle for the Internet isn’t necessarily over yet, but there is now a very real chance that Canadians will have a Summer without Bill C-11. That will no doubt be fantastic news for Canadians across the country. This week will very likely be the determining time period in which we find out if Bill C-11 is going to sink or swim with respect to the Summer deadline.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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