Liberals, Bloc, and NDP Vote Against Free Speech and User Generated Content

The Liberals, Bloc, and NDP have joined forces to vote against free speech and user generated content in Bill C-10. This through the attempt to restore Section 4.1.

Section 4.1, the now deleted section of Bill C-10, was a section that protected user generated content. After it was deleted, Bill C-10 quickly became the bill that would target people’s cat videos. Obviously, the bill goes much further, targeting podcasters, news organizations, apps, and even online porn for it’s “Canadianness”.

Early last month, the NDP shocked observers when they voted to shut down debate as the s word was beginning to hit the fan for the Liberals. The question we’ve had since was whether or not this was a mistake. Was it a one off for the NDP to suddenly be going all anti-free speech on Canadians?

The Bloc, for their part, has been trying to support this online censorship legislation. It’s not really that big of a surprise. The Bloc has a long history of being anti-consumer – even at the expense of every day Quebecker’s. Lobbyists have long effectively captured the party and the party will pretty much do their bidding. Whether it’s through copyright reform or through Bill C-10, there is plenty of history to show how anti-consumer the party has been.

More recently, the Conservative party has put forward an amendment to re-implement Section 4.1. Such an amendment, if it passed, would effectively solve so many problems with this legislation. It would mean that user generated content would be, once again, protected. Despite the loud and clear objections by digital rights advocates and creators alike, it seems that few have chosen to listen. Word is that the Liberals, Bloc, and the NDP have voted against the free speech amendment:

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage continued its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-10 yesterday, spending the full two hours debating a Conservative amendment that would have restored the user generated content safeguards that were removed when Section 4.1 was dropped from the bill. The Conservative amendment effectively offered the parties a “do-over” by acknowledging that the removal had sparked huge public concern over the implications for freedom of expression and net neutrality. Nevertheless, the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc voted down the motion, with the NDP not even bothering to speak to the issue at all.

While the three parties were not supportive of addressing the user generated content concerns, they were quick to defend any suggestions that the study of Bill C-10 had been flawed and excluded important voices. For example, when Conservative MP Rachael Harder began reading comments from Scott Benzie on the harms to digital-first Canadian creators who did not appear before the committee (citing the likes of Lily Singh, Molly Burke and thousands more), Liberal MP Anthony Housefather jumped in with a “point of clarification” that the Conservatives could have invited Benzie as a witness (he said the same to me in a Twitter exchange). Bloc MP Martin Champoux also took issue with suggestions that the consultation had been incomplete, stating that there had been 121 witnesses.

To be clear, there has not been anywhere close to 121 witnesses in the committee’s study of Bill C-10. The committee’s study was divided into two: a study about Bill C-10 as the committee launched into hearings before the bill had even cleared second reading in the House of Commons (I wrote about the issue here) and a second study on Bill C-10 after second reading was completed. Excluding government officials and ministers, the committee heard from 11 individuals and organizations during part one (I appeared on February 5th) and 30 individuals and groups during part two (I appeared a second time on May 17th). There are certainly many appearances from department officials and several groups were invited back when their appearances were cut short by parliamentary business. But the reality is that the committee heard from a total 41 individuals and groups, not 121. Incredibly, there were only four independent experts appearing as individuals with the committee barely pretending to seek out independent, expert opinions or advice on the bill.

The impact of not having key witnesses appear before committee has become increasingly obvious as clause-by-clause has proceeded. The reality is that the MPs may be well-meaning, but there is too much they simply don’t know about the bill and its implications. This includes the numerous terms that are not defined, the likely impact on creators, the consequences of discoverability, and the ability to implement provisions that are not found anywhere else in the world among them. Without that knowledge, many simply revert to platitudes about making web giants pay, instead of acknowledging the obvious: the committee’s study of Bill C-10 has been deeply flawed and embarrassingly incomplete. As MP Kevin Waugh told committee yesterday, “Bill C-10 is a disaster now. We need to take a step back.”

Perhaps the most depressing and disappointing thing about this is that this proves that the NDP have effectively turned their back on free speech and, in the process, user generated content. While it was possible to believe the earlier vote to shut down debate may have been a mistake, this second vote proves that this was no oversight. The NDP has sent a message loud and clear that they are no friends of free speech online. What’s even worse is that, as we recently noted, the choices for those who still support free speech is very slim. With this latest move, it seems as though that the Green Party may be all who is left.

At this point in time, the question is, why is there so little appetite to defend free speech these days? Advocates have been pounding the facts for months now, so it’s not as though their voices aren’t there. The thing is, it seems that their calls to defend free speech is falling on deaf ears. At this point, litigation may be the only thing that could avert this travesty. This after the lack of political will to protect free speech.

At this point, the serious question is, how can digital rights advocates spread the message that free speech is not only important, but actively under threat in this country? Is it possible to turn this into a huge political issue that is to the point where major political parties can’t ignore it any more?

For now, the battle isn’t over yet. The legislation still has to be voted on in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, with the rushed process that is going on with this legislation, that is looking more plausible by the week.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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