Canadians Push Back and Say “No” To Internet Censorship

It seems Canadian regulators are getting an earful. Contrary to what a lobbying organizations are hoping, it seems Canadians are rejecting Internet censorship.

The debate is definitely heating up in Canada over Internet censorship. Things started to heat up last December when it was first revealed that Canadian ISP Bell was supporting Internet censorship without judicial oversight. Later on, reports surfaced saying that Shaw, a second major Canadian ISP is supporting internet censorship as well. These reports alone drew a lot of controversy in and of itself.

Fast forward to this year and another surprising entity joined into the debate saying they too want Canadian regulators to censor the Internet. That entity, of course, is the CBC – a major Canadian broadcaster that is publicly funded. They are all members of a newly minted lobbying group known as FairPlay Canada.

Now, it seems, Canadians are fighting back. It is being reported that thousands of Canadians are sending their own submissions to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) slamming the plan to censor the Internet:

As of this morning, there are over 4,200 interventions on the CRTC site. To put these numbers in perspective, there were more objections to website blocking in less than a week than interventions to the CRTC’s much-promoted Let’s Talk TV consultation over several months. What makes the public response particularly noteworthy is that the submissions are not the result of an organized campaign. OpenMedia is inviting Canadians to comment through its website, but these are not its submissions (which will presumably come later in a group response). In fact, in skimming through the responses (JF Mezei helpfully pulled the first 3,800 together), it is striking how while the sentiment remains the same for the vast majority of submissions (do not approve website blocking), the individual responses are largely unique. Indeed, some submissions identify many technical, legal, and policy concerns with the proposal (for example, here, here, here, here, here).

This can be contrasted with the only organized write-in campaign that I have seen thus far, which is maintained by ACTRA. ACTRA is encouraging its members to write-in support of the plan (there are a few among the current submissions), providing full instructions in how to complete the CRTC form, including text than can be copied and pasted into the submission form. ACTRA goes so far as to tell its members to say they do not wish to appear before the commission. Interestingly, there are submissions from ACTRA members directly opposing the proposal and expressing disappointment with their organization’s position (here, here).

The current deadline for submission is March 1st, though there is an application to extend the deadline. In the meantime, Canadians concerned with the website blocking proposal can ensure that their voices are heard at the CRTC site. They can also take the time to forward their comments to their Member of Parliament and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains.

While this move may be surprising to some lobbyists hoping to sneak in censorship rules, this is not an unprecedented development. In 2009, the Canadian government launched a copyright consultation. At issue was whether or not Canada should adopt American style copyright laws such as a three strikes law and anti-circumvention rules that would criminalize anyone for breaking copy protection. While those were just two of the many issues brought up in the debate, Canadians showed up in droves demanding a more balanced approach to copyright laws. This put pressure on the Canadian government of the day and basically gave them a choice: appease foreign lobbyists and introduce the then-called “Canadian DMCA” and face the wrath of Canadians come election time or back off on some of their plans and allow Canadian voices to be heard. Thankfully for Canadians, the government did back down on some of the more radical copyright proposals.

It seems history is pretty much repeating itself here. Canadians have no problem doing what they can to protect the free and open Internet. No matter who pushes for more restrictive laws, they will push back.

It’s hard to say what kind of impact this is going to have at the CRTC at this stage. If history is anything to go by, this is a positive sign for those who do not want to see the Internet censored. It could also mean that the lobbyists may need to start digging around for a plan “B” because the push for Internet censorship could very easily go off the rails at this point.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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