How Bill C-11, Bill C-18, and Online Harms Will Collectively Ruin the Canadian Internet

The trifecta of bad bills, Bill C-11, Bill C-18, and Online Harms will ruin the internet in Canada. We explain.

If you believe in the free and open internet and happen to reside in Canada, Bill C-11, Bill C-18, and the Online Harms proposal is basically the trifecta of terrible lawmaking. All three are the result of a rejection of evidence, understanding, and progressive thinking about the internet at large. It is essentially viewing the internet as the source of all societal problems and the only real solution is to shut the whole thing down. In the absence of any real mechanism to shut down the internet, these three bills represent the next best thing.

While there has been plenty of analysis on the damage these initiatives would do individually, very little analysis has been done on just how all three initiatives would interact and create the perfect storm of awful. So, based on what we know about what each bills are like in their current state, we decided to consider what the end result would be and how each bill interacts with one another. This is especially timely given that Bill C-11, the first of these three, is going to go through hearings later this week.

Bill C-11 (Social Media Censorship)

Back in February of this year, we published an analysis of the legislation. Since then, it had gone through the House of Commons committee and emerged from the process largely unchanged. Some window dressing that says how this bill should be consistent with the values of freedom of expression, but legally, that tweak in the language is meaningless. What’s more is that supporters have long said that while the text of the bill is going to inevitably lead to censorship, the “intent” of the bill is something completely different. Again, this is completely meaningless because the courts will give more weight to what the text of the bill rather than what was going through the minds of lawmakers when crafting the bill.

To be clear, Bill C-11 is a censorship bill. While some have mistakenly taken that to mean that the legislation will remove content from platforms, there is no provision that does this in the bill. However, this bill is still a censorship bill. As we explained earlier, the bill ensures that people’s voices are not heard. In short, the bill compels platforms to deprioritize content not deemed “Canadian” enough. So, if your content would otherwise show up in recommendations, this bill ensures that results for Canadian users will be unlikely to feature your content.

So, although you are free to post all of the videos you want on sites like YouTube, every single one of your video’s will remain at views so low, you’ll never see any kind of success ever no matter how great the content truly is. Instead, handpicked content by the Canadian government will overrule your rightful position and results that may or may not be relevant to a users searching or viewing. While there are plenty of more nuances to go through, that is the general gist of the actual effect this legislation would have.

Bill C-18 (Link Taxes)

Bill C-18 is Canada’s link tax legislation. Back in April, we published an analysis of the legislation. In short, the legislation seeks payments for linking to news articles on big platforms. The justifications behind the bill have been almost exclusively build on lies and half truths about how content actually behaves on the internet and on various platforms. This ranges from how social media is somehow “stealing” content from journalism outlets (they don’t) to how the legislation is the thing that will “save” journalism (it won’t). Probably the only truthful thing we’ve seen from Bill C-18 supporters is that large platforms do wield a huge amount of power in the online marketplace. Once you get past that part, the comments typically slide into the realm of propaganda and misinformation.

The real world effect that this legislation is that linking to content will go from free (as it should be) to something that costs millions, if not, billions of dollars to support). As early as last month, Facebook has told US publishers that it will no longer pay for news links. Given this direction, it is most likely that this decision will spread internationally. Because of this, any news outlet wanting to post news links could very well see those efforts outright blocked by Facebook altogether (such was briefly the case in Australia).

Of course, link taxes are not exclusively affecting Facebook. There are other platforms out there that aggregate content like Google, Reddit, Fark, Slashdot, Hacker News, and many others. Should link taxes go through, all could be affected and, more often then not, the logical decision would be to simply block all links going to Canadian websites. Even worse, some might make the decision to block all Canadian IP addresses on top of it all just to be sure that they are not legally liable.

Because of this effect, it would make it anywhere between difficult to impossible to share links to your site on third party platforms (assuming your are on a Canadian site of course). This cuts off a huge avenue for where your content can be seen. As a result, if you are running a website, link taxes could very easily make it impossible to grow that site because links to it would be banned.

Online Harms

Online Harms is generally the final act in all of this. While it hasn’t taken the form of a formal bill yet, the bills overall look was spelled out in Canada’s fake “consultation” last year.

The consultation drew responses from myself at first, but I wound up being far from alone in condemning the legislation. Those who were openly sharing their responses almost universally rejected the proposal as-is. What’s more is that an ATIP request wrestled the rest of the submissions out of the government, showing that the rejection was much more wide-spread than previously thought. The Canadian government said that they heard the Canadian response and has since taken time to retool the legislation, though whether they actually listen to the Canadian public and fix the proposal or just take the same approach as Bill C-11 remains to be seen.

One core criticism that was rightfully flagged was the requirement to take down content within 24 hours or face a minimum $10 million fine. This means that website owners are effectively required to be glued to their website 24/7 or risk receiving a massively disproportionate fine. What’s more is that what is considered “harmful” isn’t really well defined and could ultimately mean anything any random anonymous user happens to flag (literally, anyone can flag content considered “harmful” and it’s a guilty no matter what process after). This process is not open to interpretation or an appeals process.

Even worse is that the proposal also openly called for mass internet censorship. The short of it is that if content considered “harmful” is posted on a non-Canadian website, and the website refuses to comply with the Canadian law, then the government will order ISPs to block the whole website.

There are, of course, numerous concerns about this that go beyond this really brief summary, but that should give you an idea of the threats that were proposed here.

How All Three Effectively Kills (Almost) All Online Businesses in Canada

There is no disputing the huge harms all three do individually. Collectively? It’s not that far off from just shutting down the whole internet. If you come up with a brilliant idea for a new small business, at least one of these laws will stop you dead in your tracks.

For instance, let’s start up a hypothetical website. What is it about? It doesn’t matter. Someone is somehow find a way to be offended by the website and report it for posting “harmful” content. Either you constantly take content down to appease the government, you shut down your website shortly after, or you get fined $10 million and find yourself put on the streets. That is really the only three outcomes you have here. What’s more is that Bill C-18 will ensure you are never seen anywhere from the get-go.

What about starting a YouTube channel (it really could be a Twitch or TikTok account, but I happen to know how YouTube works the most for the time being)? You post several video’s. What’s the content? It doesn’t matter. As you are posting, you notice a couple of things. First of all, you are getting maybe 1 or 2 impressions per month. Additionally, almost every single one of your video’s stubbornly remain at “no views”. You pick up some pointers on what content is popular and how to configure your video’s for maximum effect, but everything you do doesn’t yield any results. This is because of Bill C-11 and how it suppresses your content (Says Bill C-10, but is accurate for Bill C-11).

Let’s say you are more artistically inclined and want to produce a web comic instead. You find a good web comic website to host your comics. It’s probably hosted somewhere in the US, so you’re in the clear on the liability front. About a month into your adventure of posting web comics, the website suddenly becomes inaccessible. After a few days, you investigate why. As it turns out, someone else posted a comic on another part of the site that someone found offensive. When the Canadian government demanded it be taken down, the owners of the web comic hosting platform (rightfully) told the government to pound sand. In response, the CRTC ordered all Canadian ISPs to block the whole site, shutting down your efforts in the process.

Really, this sort of thing can apply to multiple endeavours such as music production, 3D animation (models, pictures, movies, learning materials, etc.), painting, drawing, live singing, video game development, app development, etc. It’s the same scenario.

So, at this point, you really start having to get creative about what could actually survive this onslaught of innovation killing legislation. The only sites that stand a chance of surviving are, ironically, the large platforms that have been the target of such ire from supporters of these laws in the first place.

One theoretical is the creation of Facebook pages and groups. You could go pure Facebook in creating an online brand identity. You ultimately have to go pure Facebook in that regard because the sharing of links on third party sites is now no longer an option. Unfortunately, online trolls are everywhere and, one day, they just lodge complaints at a considerable rate. Rather than face the liability, Facebook opts to just shut down your page or group altogether. The same can be said for Twitter as well (by this point, pretty much every other platform out there is already blocked by the CRTC).

Now what? Well, you might have noticed that we used the word “almost”, so what really is left at that point? Crime.

Let’s say you are engaged in human trafficking, the buying and selling of stolen personal information, trafficking of controlled weapons, or the buying and selling of illegal drugs. Such endeavours often take place on the dark web through things like the TOR network. As a result, such websites are impervious to the censorship efforts of the government just because of the way the infrastructure is set up. You are largely anonymous (it’s never completely impossible to unmask someone) if you do everything right and you are using something like Bitcoin for your transactions. None of the three bills will be effective in stopping you. At best, they may make it difficult to access the tools initially, but once you gain access, you are in.

In a similar vein, if you use anonymous tools like VPN services, it is theoretically possible to continue the endeavours, though there is going to be a lot of tough challenges ahead of your that your international counterparts won’t face. This includes whether the VPN works, an inherently slower internet connection, and attempting to sell something exclusively to an international audience and not your home country. Alternatively, you can move out of the country, but you are going to face a disadvantage of, at least, cultural barriers and the fact that you have uprooted your whole life to continue to pursue your dreams. This, of course, solves nothing if you are intending on building your business in Canada legitimately.


Taken apart and analyzed individually, all three initiatives by the government have numerous reasons to be worried for the future. However, taken as a whole package, all three would effectively wipe online Canadian business off the map as currently proposed. The online harms proposal will do a huge amount of heavy lifting in ensuring that innovation online does not happen. However, it is far from perfect at killing online innovation. Wherever the gaps are for the online harms proposal, the other two bills will swoop in and cover virtually all remaining legislative gaps that potential business owners might be able to figure out.

The only real business endeavour or innovation that we could find that could possibly survive is either those who mask their identity online or criminal enterprises that feature equal or more sophisticated methods of covering their tracks. Obviously, this isn’t an endorsement to commit criminal activities, but theoretically, it’s the only thing we could come up with that could still carry on after these initiatives become law. It’s an outcome no non-criminal wants, but it’s an outcome we are currently moving towards.

It’s actually highly unfortunate, but user generated content and digital only creators who create movies are ultimately on the front lines at the moment. If they lose their fight, those front lines move towards anyone publishing text (which includes us). Should that fight be lost, the rest of the internet will find themselves on the front lines. It would be where the Canadian internet could make their last stand. Losing that fight would be game over for anyone dreaming of having a bright future online within the country. What’s more is that a victory on one front won’t mean victory on another. A loss, however, could mean momentum is on the governments side. That really is the last thing anyone here wants.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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