Bill C-10 Halted for Constitutional Review as Minister Walks Back Interview Comments

Steven Guilbeault is now walking back comments he made on Bill C-10. This as the legislation stalls as a constitutional review is now granted.

The absolute train wreck that is Canadian Heritage Minister, Steven Guilbeault’s efforts to sell Bill C-10 is continuing. Bill C-10 is the notorious legislation that would regulate user generated content and apps. The regulation would require discoverability of Canadian content. Many fear that such a requirement would bring about government censorship to online content. Generally, the concerns centers around a provision that explicitly excludes user generated content from the legislation, but an amendment deleted that section, opening user generated content to heavy government regulation.

In the face of that controversy, Guilbeault tried to sell a story that says that suggestions that C-10 is about regulating user generated content is fake news. Of course, the actual legislation didn’t change which made that a particularly difficult sell. So, the Minister got an interview with the CBC seemingly to clear things up. All that was asked of the minister was the amendment that deleted the user generated content exemption.

In response, viewers bore witness to an absolute train wreck of a response where he dodged the question repeatedly and kept trying to change the subject without answering the original question.

Critics watching the interview started to conclude that if the legislation isn’t enough for him to be fired from his position, that interview should have been it. The failure to even articulate basic information about the legislation and the amendment that caused the controversy in the first place painted a picture of a Minister who clearly doesn’t know what he is doing.

For observers, they thought they saw the worst of this debate because of that interview.

… oh how wrong they were.

During question period when sharp questions were directed at the government over the legislation, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, stepped in to repeat that the legislation does not, in fact, regulate user generated content. He said that an amendment was forthcoming to make this crystal clear. It didn’t take long for critics to find out about this amendment. As it turns out, the amendment double-downed on efforts to regulate user generated content by spelling out how the CRTC (Canada’s broadcast regulator) would oversee these efforts to regulate user generated content.

That… can’t get any worse, can it? Well, it somehow did if you can believe it.

CTV conducted their own interview with the Minister. While Guilbeault initially continued to deny that Bill C-10 regulates user generated content, part way through, the Minister admitted that, yes, Bill C-10 does regulate user generated content. This admission even perplexed Evan Solomon who verified that he is admitting that the legislation does regulate user generated content. The Minister simply confirmed it and articulated that those with millions of viewers would be considered a broadcaster.

When pressed on what the threshold would be, the Minister responded by saying that this is up to the CRTC to determine. He even said that the government is not regulating user generated content, it’s the CRTC. That assertion really did leave the lips of a sitting minister. Yes, that is completely dumbfounding. As we pointed out, not only is that a reversal to what he previously stated both in the interview and previous comments, but it also leaves the Prime Minister out to dry. This is because it creates the extremely awkward situation that the Prime Ministers own Heritage Minister contradicted the Prime Minister.

One of the big rules about working for government is that you do not embarrass the boss. That just happened at the very top. This train wreck just kept having more and more train cars pile on. You know you should look away from this disaster, but you just can’t help but watch.

At this point, a few more train cars are getting piled on in this wreck. Apparently, after admitting that the legislation does regulate user generated content, the Minister released a statement saying that it now doesn’t regulate user content. From CTV:

In a new statement sent to CTV News late Sunday night, the minister says he used “unclear” language when he referred to people and online channels being subject to federal regulations as part of the government’s updates to the Broadcasting Act.

During question period on Monday, the minister faced more questions about the latest messaging confusion. The committee studying the bill has now called for him to testify in the coming days while the federal justice department delivers an updated assessment of whether the bill still complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In the new statement, the minister says he “should have been more precise” in the words he used, as: “an individual — a person — who uses social media will never be considered as broadcasters and will not be subject to the obligations or regulations within the Broadcasting Act.

In his latest statement seeking to clarify the scope and intention of Bill C-10, Guilbeault said that: “When social media platforms produce content for Canadians to watch or listen to — for broadcast– the platforms will be regulated… If a social media platform contracts an individual to produce content for broadcast, it will still be the social media platform that faces regulation.”

It’s pretty safe to say that the Minister has pretty much nuked his own credibility from orbit. We’d try to analyze that last paragraph, but honestly, what’s the point? Half of everything this guy has said is barely comprehensible as it is. Really, though, it’s pretty easy to see that the Minister wants to take his interview comments back and is using the typical diplomatic language to do so.

The problem is, it matters less what the Minister says and more what is actually in the legislation. That legislation really hasn’t changed amidst this seemingly never-ending string of… whatever it is that’s coming out of the Minister’s mouth. Even if the spin contained some kind of semblance of strategy and knowledge, the legislation itself will still continue to be a problem.

At this point, you might think that he’d finally get the hint and stop talking. The Minister has become his own biggest threat here. Everything about this controversy has been almost completely self-inflicted. As it turns out, that advice to “just stop talking” hasn’t reached the Minister yet. Instead, the Minister decided to go full Donald Trump and start rage tweeting conspiracy theories on top of it all:

we are now witnessing public opinion being manipulated at scale through a deliberate campaign of misinformation by commercial interests that would prefer to avoid the same regulatory oversight applied to broadcast media.

At this stage, it’s not unreasonable to start wondering if this guy is starting to experience some sort of mental health decline. The amount you’d have to be detached from reality to find yourself posting something like that on Twitter is reaching QAnon levels. At this point, even Michael Geist himself is admitting that he is losing his cool over what is unfolding:

Over the past few weeks of intense Bill C-10 debate, nothing has left me angrier or more concerned than this tweet. First, the conspiracy theory amplified by Guilbeault is plainly wrong and itself quite clearly misinformation. The concerns regarding the bill have been backed by law professors, experts, Justice Ministers, former CRTC chairs, and hundreds of others. To claim this is a tech-inspired misinformation campaign lends support to the view that Guilbeault still does not understand his own bill and its implications. Moreover, not only have the tech companies remained relatively quiet, but most did not even appear before the Heritage Committee as part of its study. To suggest that having largely ignored the bill, the companies are now engaged in some grand conspiracy is lunacy.

Second, Guilbeault’s decision to quote from the Medium article is particularly notable since the piece not only argues that the criticism is based on a corporate-inspired misinformation campaign, but that it demonstrates the need for Bill C-10. In other words, Guilbeault is citing with approval an article calling for government and CRTC regulation precisely because of public criticism of proposed government legislation. With government insisting that the CRTC should have the power to regulate the content of Canadians’ social media feeds through discoverability requirements, it is worrying that the Guilbeault cites with approval an article that links regulating speech and political criticism.

Third, Guilbeault has regularly indicated that he plans to introduce “online harms” legislation in the coming weeks that will include website blocking, mandated takedowns, and the creation of a new social media regulator. The ease with which a government minister labels criticism and public dissent as misinformation for political gain is deeply troubling given that the same minister is planning extensive new speech and Internet regulations.

If the public needed yet another reason to be concerned about the government’s motivation for Bill C-10, Guilbeault just provided it. He is set to introduce a bill that purports to deal with misinformation, yet just used his own Twitter feed to traffic in it. Indeed, the government cannot claim to support freedom of expression and at the same time have its lead minister on the file amplify flimsy conspiracy theories and openly support regulating speech based on such theories. Bill C-10 is not designed to address misinformation, but the fact that Guilbeault seems to think it could help address the issue represents a giant red flag that cannot be ignored. The government should start from scratch on Bill C-10 and cannot vest responsibility for the online harms bill in Guilbeault.

I can vouch for how much Geist doesn’t get upset over things that often. I can also say that I don’t blame the guy for being upset over what is happening. The amount the debate has gone off the rails is off the charts at this stage.

While there is a dictionary sized list of reasons to be concerned for this legislation at this stage, there might be a reprieve in all of this. Despite the motion being earlier blocked, it seems that there will be a constitutional review after all. From The Star:

The Liberal government’s controversial Bill C-10 is being put on hold as a committee of MPs seeks to determine if it could violate freedom of expression rights for social media users.

The Canadian Heritage committee, made up of Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs is currently studying the bill but decided to stop and ask for a new charter statement from the Department of Justice on Monday.

The request to do so was passed through a motion that also says the committee is to hear from both David Lametti, the minister of justice, and Steven Guilbeault, the minister of heritage, and a panel of expert witnesses before continuing Bill C-10’s development.

All further work on the bill, including additional amendments, is on hold — a loss for the Liberals who have been asking that such work continue, even if a new charter statement was demanded.

What is remarkable about all of this is how everything about this could have been avoided. If that amendment to strip the legislation of the clause that exempts user generated content was either stopped or was never tabled, none of this would have happened. You wouldn’t have a public outcry. Those two disastrous interviews would never have happened either. Further, the discussion about the Canadian government going after your cat videos wouldn’t have even existed. All of it is avoidable and all of this has been self-inflicted.

I know the Minister will never read this, but what the heck? If I could give the Minister one piece of advice, it’s this: The bill is undergoing a review. Switch off the Internet, turn off the cell phone, take no more interviews, step away from your work and take, at minimum, one week off. It’s obvious that you really need it right now because it is clear you aren’t thinking straight at this stage. That tweet is proof of this.

Chances are, that advice won’t be followed at this stage, so the question is, how many more cars are going to pile up on this train wreck. We know we should look away, but we really can’t help it at this point.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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