Guilbeault Ignored His Own Officials Over Stripping User Content Protections

Steven Guilbeault was told by his own officials that the now stripped user generated content protections exemption from C-10 was “important”.

New documents are revealing that not only was this whole controversy surrounding Bill C-10 preventable, but also that the removal of those protections was also an active choice. You might recall that, from the very beginning, this controversy started with the removal of a critical protection that explicitly exempted user generated content from the new regulations being put in place. Those protections were stripped out of the legislation from a Liberal amendment. This kicked off the whole controversy in the first place.

Now, more light is being shed on the critical moments leading up to this flashpoint. An Access to Information Act request suggests that Steven Guilbeault’s own officials warned him against stripping those protections. From the National Post:

Months before the Liberal government removed a section of Bill C-10 in a controversial amendment, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault was told by officials within his own department that it was an “important limitation” on regulatory powers.

A briefing note prepared for Guilbeault in December 2020, and obtained through access to information, outlined which online services would be covered by Bill C-10. It pointed to section 2.1, which excludes individual users from regulation by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and remains in the bill, and to section 4.1, which excluded their content. Section 4.1 was removed by the government in late April, a move critics said was an attack on free expression.

Those two sections meant “that the Act does not apply to users of social media services, or social media services themselves in respect of the content posted by their users,” the briefing note says.

“Social media services like YouTube and Facebook greatly expand the number of individuals and other entities that can be said to be transmitting programs over the Internet,” it said.

“This provides an important limitation on the application of the Act by ensuring that under the Act the CRTC cannot regulate the audio or video communications of individuals (or other entities) simply because they use a social media service.”

Guilbeault told MPs on the Heritage committee Friday that the government removed the exemption for user-generated content because it couldn’t justify imposing obligations on companies like Spotify and Apple music but not YouTube, which is currently the most popular service used by Canadians to listen to music.

The sparse supporters of Guilbeault insist that this controversy is much ado about nothing. They argue that the legislation does not regulate user generated content and that the Justice Departments non-analysis analysis, which just rubber stamped some Liberal talking points, proved it. This latest document suggests that the criticisms not only come from those on the outside, but those on the inside as well. Basically, everyone knows this legislation, as it stands now, regulates user generated content – everyone except Guilbeault and his supporters who continue to stick their fingers in their ears and scream “la la la I can’t hear you!”

This latest revelation suggests that this blow up may have resulted in negligence as well. It paints the scenario that whenever someone brings up user generated content, the Minister simply blocks out those comments from his head. That happened at a recent hearing, during the notorious CTV interview, and during the infamous CBC interview.

Whenever someone approaches the minister with concerns about user generated content, those concerns get flat out ignored and deflection comes into play. We’ve seen him scramble for talking points that don’t address the concern almost every time. We’ve seen everything from him scrambling for lists he considers supporters of the legislation, deflecting to “leveling the playing field” with big tech companies, attacks on critics by saying that critics just don’t believe in regulation of any kind, an attack where he accused a Conservative MP of wanting to re-open the abortion debate and not believing in human rights at all, and even an incident where he just says that this is all just Conservative obstructionism. It’s like his brain can’t acknowledge that this debate even exists. The closest anyone has ever gotten is eliciting a response of outright denial.

One of the big reasons why so many are passionate about this is because, for some, this whole controversy represents an existential threat. If Canadians are talking about non-Canadian content, will they have the regulatory book thrown at them by the CRTC? As the law stands, yes, that is a possibility. That is a part of why so many are up in arms over this. It’s not a grand conspiracy organized by big tech giants as the Minister suggested, but rather, people who view this as a threat to them personally. So, it should be no surprise that it is getting widely attacked.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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