Canadian Government Re-Iterates Their War on the Open Internet

During a press conference yesterday, the Canadian government has re-iterated their intention to declare war on the open Internet.

Last year, Canadians were breathing a sigh of relief. This is because the Canadian government didn’t proceed with their war on the open Internet. After the parliamentary session ended, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued a mandate letter. In that letter, they basically said that link taxes and speech regulation through Bill C-10. The website and business killing online harms proposal was also thought to be in the works at the time as well.

Yesterday, Liberal government House Leader, Mark Holland gave a press conference saying that the government does fully intend on continuing this. It marked the first shot across the bow in the new year for the open Internet. He said that the speech regulation bill, Bill C-10, is going to return quickly and urged MP’s to speedily pass the legislation. There was no word on whether or not the government intends on continuing with the provisions that put user generated content under heavy government regulation, but up to this point, the signs suggest that they won’t change course on that – the very thing that made Bill C-10 so controversial in the first place.

In addition to that, Holland said that the government intends on moving forward with the link taxes. Obviously, he dressed it up and suggested that the government is simply trying to level the playing field between publishers and large tech giants, but given that the government has said in the past that it intends on modelling their approach after the disastrous Australian version, everyone knows it as link taxes in the end.

When it comes to online harms, there was actually less information. While reporters asked Holland about the status of online harms, he said to reporters that he was there to give just a general idea of where the government is headed. He suggested that he didn’t have any information to provide at that time, but that information would be public as it became available.

The announcement is basically a reminder that the government is not finished with the Internet despite the setbacks they received over Bill C-10. Those setbacks were largely thanks to Canadians rising up and urging MPs to vote against the legislation. Bizarrely, only the Conservatives heard those calls and put a stop to that madness. After the political fortunes for the NDP evaporated in Quebec, the NDP finally seemed to have flip-flopped and came out against the legislation.

If Bill C-10 came back as-is, you can expect largely the same debates to be had again. Bill C-10, as it stood during the last government, would subject user generated content to heavy regulations. Supporters tried to mislead the public by saying that it doesn’t regulate user generated content, but that is a flat out lie. With Section 2.1, the users are who are exempt, not their content. As a result, their content would then get demoted on social media platforms at the behest of the Canadian government. Had that legislation passed, it would have immediately been legally challenged for obvious infringements to free speech. What’s more is that such a case could very easily have been a slam dunk case to boot.

While there is clear constitutional problems with Bill C-10, online harms isn’t much better. Our knowledge from the online harms proposal was derived from the “consultation” process. Consultation is in quotes because, as so many people during that consultation noted, the consultation itself was little more than a box ticking exercise not seriously intended to solicit feedback.

The online harms proposal was almost universally condemned as a terrible response to tackling harmful content online. It mandated 24 hour takedowns of content deemed “harmful”. It would levy multi-million dollar fines on any website that doesn’t respond to complaints fast enough and institute mass Internet censorship through site blocking on offshore websites that do not comply.

What is deemed “harmful” is left up to interpretation. Initially, the proposal is sold as simply following a set of categories for harmful content. However, caveats in that law suggest that what is considered “harmful” can be expanded on at any time. So, in theory, if a Conservative party gets into power, they could theoretically consider all environmental activism to be “harmful” and fine, shut down, or block any website that engages in environmental activism online. What else could be considered “harmful”? Really, it could be anything that the government of the day deems fit for banning regardless of political stripe.

At the end of the day, this prong is another blatantly unconstitutional proposal that is destined to wind up in court. It threatens any website that offers a comments section or other forms of user feedback. An example might be a web forum for instance. Since the potential fines range in the millions of dollars, many websites would be forced to either shut down all comments sections and forums or shut down entirely because the cost of doing business would be exceedingly too high to even think about continuing.

That, of course, leaves link taxes. The link taxes are notoriously bad for a number of obvious reasons. Frequently, the link taxes would compel platforms and aggregators to put money into a pool. That money in the pool would then only go to the largest big publishers in the country (i.e. Rupert Murdoch properties). Every other smaller publisher would then get left out in the cold as all they get is the consequences of those link taxes. It can discourage platforms from linking to their website which would choke off a source of traffic to those publishers. Since so many are already on razor thin margins as it is, this alone could easily push some straight into bankruptcy. Every website would get hit hard by this.

What’s more is that this completely upends standard norms of copyright. Whenever any other discipline requires the citation of sources, those sources are added to the bottom of various papers. What this link tax would do is basically say that there is a dollar figure for every source you cited in your paper. While the link tax doesn’t target research papers, it does target online sites that similarly cite their sources as well. It’s completely insane and entirely unprecedented in copyright law. What’s more is that such thinking is highly corrosive and would be highly detrimental to journalism as a whole. Large publishers push this forward anyway because they feel they have a massive cash grab on their hands, allowing them to freeload off of an entire modern industry.

Another interesting mention during the press conference is the Digital Services Tax. Holland said that the government intends on moving forward with this proposed idea. The digital services tax would apply a 3% tax on services such as Amazon and Netflix under the premise that these large giants don’t otherwise pay taxes while operating in Canada. There is, however, a very large problem with this seemingly innocuous idea: the US doesn’t like it. The US has warned Canada that if the country moves ahead with this, it will spark a trade war between the two countries. This on the basis that the tax targets American businesses.

So, at the end of the day, there could be significant economic pain heading Canada’s way if this proposal moves forward. Judging by the press conference, it sounds like the Canadian government is simply not listening to their US counterparts on this matter.

While it was nice to have a one month reprieve from this complete insanity that the Canadian government was planning, it sounds like this reprieve is now over. The disastrous three pronged approach to kill off the free and open Internet is moving ahead with the added bonus of trade war sparking taxes to boot. With the Liberals seemingly intent on keeping with their self-imposed 100 day deadline, it looks like the war is going to happen sooner rather than later. That is definitely not the news Canadian’s wanted to hear.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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