Bill C-10 Dies As Canada Officially Heads into an Election

Canada is going in to an election. While C-10 is now dead, the risks to a free and open Internet in Canada is looming.

It is official. Canada is going into an election. On Friday, we reported on the rumours that an election is going to hit. Perhaps the one bit of great news that is to come out of this is that Bill C-10, the bill that would subject user generated content to heavy regulation, is now dead after dying on the order-paper. While that is, indeed, cause for celebration if you believe in freedom of expression, that celebration is going to, of course, be short lived.

By almost every account, the current governing party, the Liberal party, is poised to obtain a majority government. It was obvious that internal Liberal analysts saw this opportunity to grab even more power and said that this is an opportunity the party shouldn’t miss. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to spin this as giving people an opportunity to choose who should lead during a pandemic, the hilariously bad cover story wound up being one that few really believed in the first place. To be fair, though, no political cover story was ever going to cover up the rank stench of political opportunism in the first place. So, a weak attempt was probably all that was needed in the first place.

Of course, everyone knows that the real question is whether or not the Liberals can score their majority government or not. It would be quite a shock if the Conservatives managed to find some way of squeaking by with a minority. With Erin O’Toole actively courting the anti-vaxxer and anti-masker vote, the Conservative party leader has effectively led his party to a dead on arrival campaign for the most part. After all, this is Canada, not Texas. A win would almost certainly rely on some seriously funky math in the seat count.

For digital rights advocates, though, the outcomes generally being Liberal minority or Liberal majority is, indeed, problematic. It’s basically choosing between screwed and totally screwed. The reason for this is because the Liberals have basically fully embraced being the image of being the anti-Internet party. If the Liberals were to go back in to power (an almost sure thing at this stage), it would mean that Bill C-10 would get resurrected from the dead and put on the fast-track to passage. After all, the party pulled out every anti-democratic stop to try and ensure it’s passage before. With a complicit media essentially giving political cover for this unconstitutional effort, it’ll be something the Liberals would feel they can pull off again – this time, successfully.

Naturally, it would be one thing if the Liberals are pushing one bad bill, but entirely another if they were pushing more. Really, this anti-Internet effort is actually a three pronged approach. With user generated content being effectively demoted in Canada in favour of legacy corporations, there are two other major threats to a free and open Internet. The second one that drew loads of controversy is the so-called “online harms” proposal. While the proposal never actually became legislation in this session (contrary to other reports you might have read), it’s currently in the early stages of development that would likely benefit from the public at large being distracted by a federal election. A technical paper was released along with a “consultation” where Canadians can issue a response to this and get promptly ignored after should they disagree with that approach.

In a nutshell, if a website has content that is considered by anyone “harmful”, the content can be “flagged” and be subject to a 24 hour removal requirement. Failure to do so would mean a potential $10 million fine or 4% annual turnover fine (whichever is greater). Anyone can flag whatever they like and what is considered “harmful” can change at any time by any government of the day. This horrific proposal would easily see the shutdown of thousands of sites across Canada. If the site is not domestic and the site in question ignores those demands, then the government can compel ISPs to block that site as well. So, on top of it all, it would usher in a new era of mass Internet censorship on top of it all, not just an era where innovation and free speech are condemned to die in Canada.

So, we mentioned a three pronged approach. So, what’s the third prong? Well, if your site somehow survives the anti-user generated content and the digital firing squads of the online harms proposal, your site will still not be safe. This is thanks to the so-called “link tax” proposal. While the proposal has lost steam in recent weeks, the Heritage Minister, Steven Guilbealt, called the push to demand payment for the privilege of linking a morality issue.

The link tax is, of course, pushed under the blatantly false pretense that linking to content is akin to stealing online. Therefore, if you link to something, then you need to pay a tax for that privilege of sending traffic to a given source. This backwards and completely ridiculous thinking would have a very corrosive effect online. If linking is financially discouraged, then that makes it harder for websites to thrive. After all, the web is called “the web” thanks to the intricate linking going back and forth. Nowhere in history has referencing material been something that people pay money for. Yet, somehow, with the Internet, that’s different in the eyes of some people who don’t know how the Internet works at all. As such, every website will suffer with linking being actively discouraged.

So, if you are a web startup and somehow managed to survive the first two prongs, the last prong will, over the long haul, probably finish you off. It’s a highly anti-internet, anti-innovation, and anti-entrepreneurial agenda, but one that could very easily be fulfilled should the Liberals manage to successfully seize power like they are hoping to.

As usual, we’ll follow the election as best as we can. After all, we offered the best coverage during the last election, we have no problem doing so again this election as well.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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