Liberals, Bloc, NDP Votes Against Removing User Generated Content in Bill C-11

After a motion to shut down debate, amendments were voted on in a secret rushed process. User generated content removal was voted down.

The anti-democratic process is continuing at Committee where Bill C-11 is not being debated. For a second time, proposed amendments were made secret thanks to a government motion to shut down debate. Details of the secret vote, however, have been spilling out anyway.

Apparently, the Green Party proposed an amendment that would clearly exclude user generated content from Bill C-11. The debate was cut off and the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc all voted against it. From Michael Geist:

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage conducted the one day of debate on Bill C-11 yesterday that Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and the Liberal government – aided and abetted by the NDP – required under a House of Commons motion. The result was an embarrassment to the government that leaves a stain that will not be easy to remove. Despite the absence of any actual deadline, the government insisted that just three two hour sessions be allocated to full clause-by-clause review of the bill featuring debate and discussion (MPs on the committee were all open to extending each session by 30 minutes for a total of 7 1/2 hours). With roughly 170 amendments proposed by five parties, there was only time for a fraction of the amendments to be reviewed. Instead, once the government-imposed deadline arrived at 9:00 pm, the committee moved to voting on the remaining proposed amendments without any debate, discussion, questions for department officials, or public disclosure of what was being voted on. The voting ran past midnight with the public left with little idea of what is in or out of the bill. The updated bill will be posted in the next day or so.

This sham process notably excluded debate on many of the proposed amendments on regulating user content. The issue arose about 30 minutes before the 9:00 pm deadline, resulting in some discussion on a Green Party amendment to clearly remove user generated content from the bill consistent with what Rodriguez has said he intends. The debate was cut short by the 9:00 deadline, where the chair moved directly to voting on amendments and the Liberals, NDP and Bloc all voted against. The effect was that despite numerous witnesses, including creators, platforms, and experts raising concerns about the implications of the bill on their creativity and expression, the government literally cut off debate on many of the proposals to address their concerns. My podcast this week highlights some of those comments and the decision to simply reject or ignore their concerns is emblematic of their worst fears.

The Liberal government was elected on a platform that emphasized good governance, transparency, and consultation. This hearing was a firm rejection of those principles. The meeting was chaired by Liberal MP Hedy Fry via video. No serious government would treat its legislation to the review presided over by Ms. Fry in a hybrid format. She was frequently confused, rarely knew who was speaking, often spoke while on mute, and required multiple suspensions to get advice from the committee clerk. Much of this is due to her chairing the committee via video, but that was the government’s choice and the result was entirely predictable to anyone who has watched Ms. Fry struggle through the hearings.

But the betrayal of democratic norms is ultimately about Rodriguez, the government, and the NDP support for the approach that was virtually guaranteed to result in cutting off debate and appropriate review. While there might have been a case for requiring the committee to set a date for clause-by-clause review, there was no reason to impose draconian limits on that review. That decision was both indefensible and entirely unnecessary given that there is no deadline for passing Bill C-11 and nothing turns on the bill passing through the House of Commons before the summer recess.

The act to vote down an amendment that would clearly exclude user generated content makes the governments intention very clear: not only is user generated content going to be regulated, but this has been the intention from the very beginning. This deliberate intention of regulating user generated content has been there longer than Bill C-11 has existed. Almost exactly a year ago, when this was known as Bill C-10, a nearly identical incident occurred. An amendment was proposed (three times as it turned out) to protect user generated content. That motion was ultimately voted down. It made it very clear that user generated content being regulated was no accident and was very clearly the intention of the Canadian government.

Now, here we are, a year later, with history repeating itself. This time around, however, we’ve had numerous digital first creators appearing before committee hearings to basically beg the government to not destroy their livelihoods. they were flanked by the music industry who were equally concerned that they could become collateral damage in this whole process (they will). The hearings themselves left some disillusioned as they felt that they were basically ignored during the process.

To punctuate the morality (or lack thereof) of the situation, the Canadian government went to the extreme of brushing aside an investigation into sexual assaults. Some officials defended the move by basically saying that sexual assault is no big deal and that sexual assault is little more than Conservative “filibuster”. We still have to stop ourselves from throwing up at that one. That messaging, of course, undermines the Canadian Prime Minister’s comments that his government treats sexual assault and sexual harassment very seriously. Apparently, their actions suggest otherwise and it represents a stunning picture of just how much they value censoring the Internet over such investigations.

As for the legislation itself, there is still the question of Senate study. That Senate study has many thinking that this legislation won’t become law before the Summer break. Still, this latest development helps the legislation be one step closer to making it into the House of Commons for a final vote. The procedures will probably get confusing here, so it isn’t exactly clear what all happens other than the House of Commons holds a vote on the legislation. Indeed, the current iteration of the bill is now secret and won’t be out for another day or so. The last time this activity happened, the Speaker of the House of Commons the Speaker of the House of Commons voided the secretly amended the legislation, ordering a reprint of the bill without the amendments. So, there is also that possibility that the same thing will happen again here, creating another speed bump for the legislation.

All this is no doubt unnerving to the thousands of Canadian online creators and the millions of social media users who are seeing, in real time, free speech getting stripped away. Some content creators have already openly mused about the idea of moving just to keep their dreams of an online career alive. Others are trying to figure out how they can have an open YouTube viewing experience alive should this become law. So, this has been an extremely emotional time for a lot of people (we’ve already heard reports of some breaking down in tears over it).

For now, there is still the uncertainty of whether this will become law before the Summer break. That is something many doubt will happen at this point, but we also know to expect the unexpected. Until it is official, there is no reason to call this legislation dead for the Summer or passed before the Summer break. We’ll, of course, continue to monitor developments as they come in (and developments are, indeed, coming in fast and furious these days).

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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