Liberals Reaffirm Their Commitment to the War on the Open Internet in Throne Speech

Today’s Throne Speech showcases the Liberal’s war on the open Internet. There was one surprise, however with one element being missing.

As we mentioned yesterday, today, the Canadian government delivered the Speech from the Throne. It’s a largely ceremonial moment, but it is meant to lay out the vision for the government.

We here at Freezenet have been long predicting that the Canadian government would continue to carry out their war on the open Internet. Simply put, the Liberals really really do not like the Internet and everything it stands for. Their burning hatred towards it is quite palpable in that they would basically shred the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms if it meant wrecking the open Internet.

when Pablo Rodriguez took over as Heritage Minister after the massive trainwreck left behind by Steven Guilbeault, some observers suggested that a new face would also mean a new direction. That new direction is hoped to steer the government away from this outright hostility towards the Internet. We, however, were not convinced and predicted that the war on the open Internet would continue. Barely two days later, we were proven correct on that assessment. It marks yet one more “Drew Wilson was right” moment in a countless list of such instances.

Of course, some might have held out hope that there was still time for things to turn around and that maybe the Minister didn’t really mean that he was going to carry out the war on the open Internet. So, many eyes were on the Throne Speech for indication that maybe the Liberals were finally listening to expert testimony and finally realize that they are barking up the wrong tree. Unsurprisingly for us, the Canadian government effectively re-confirmed their commitment to sending a wrecking ball through the Internet.

The text of the speech has been posted online and it lays out the Canadian government’s hostility towards the open Internet and its intend on putting a bullet through the brains of free speech online. Here’s one excerpt:

To support Canadian culture and creative industries, the Government will also reintroduce legislation to reform the Broadcasting Act and ensure web giants pay their fair share for the creation and promotion of Canadian content.

This, of course, is in reference to the Broadcasting Act Reform legislation previously known as Bill C-10. This is generally known as the speech regulation bill which would have hugely negative consequences for free speech. For the Liberals, this is one of the three prongs of their war on the open Internet.

Essentially, it dismantles the ability for smaller players who produce content and hands it over to establishment players such as big publishers and big broadcasters operating in the country. It tests producers ability to be able to pass the test of overall “Canadianness” and demands that content be on Canadian topics as well as being available in both official languages and various indigenous languages as well among other things. What’s more is that it treats the Internet as just another broadcaster as if it was just another channel on the TV dial. Clearly, it is not, but the government seems intent on regulating it as such anyway despite all the evidence in the world that says this is a bad idea.

In another excerpt from the Throne Speech, the Canadian government is also pushing ahead with the online harms proposal:

This is the moment to rebuild for everyone. The Government will continue to invest in the empowerment of Black and racialized Canadians, and Indigenous Peoples. It will also continue to fight harmful content online, and stand up for LGBTQ2 communities while completing the ban on conversion therapy.

So, while the speech regulation bill controls what you can say on larger platforms, the online harms proposal takes things a step further and goes after every player on the Internet – not just the large “tech giants”. The online harms proposal has received near universal condemnation during the consultation process. Generally speaking, the media is the only ones giving full throat support for it.

The online harms proposal envisions a massive regulatory super-structure to regulate content online. While the proposal envisioned 7 types of content deemed harmful, it also leaves the door open to add other forms of content the government could deem “harmful” at a later time. So, what is classified as harmful ranges from content that is already illegal (such as child pornography) to content that isn’t otherwise against the law. It also mandates that website owners compile a list of “harmful content” and regularly sends that information directly to this government regulatory super-structure. Failure to do so would result in massive fines that would be crippling to almost any website owner.

Further, it also mandates that website operators send secret police reports to the RCMP and CSIS whenever content appears on their site deemed harmful. That, of course, raised many red flags for anti-racism groups and privacy minded organizations alike. What’s more is that the government also intends on implementing website blocking for sites that do not comply with these requirements. In short, it’s also a massive censorship machine that compels site owners to be in constant communication with authorities.

Such a law would have devastating consequences not just for user rights, but also devastate Canadian website owners who are already struggling to make ends meet. If you started a small business online during the pandemic, the Canadian government now has you in their crosshairs. For us, this does represent an existential threat, though we know full well we aren’t the only ones that have a reason to fear for our digital lives.

Probably the one surprise in the Throne Speech is the lack of references to the link taxes. During the last government, then Heritage Minister, Steven Guilbeault, famously remarked that it was “immoral” that big publishers don’t get free money from large tech giants that send them free traffic.

While the push was hard from Big Publishing to demand the ability to freeload off of another industry, the unity among the papers began to collapse as Google started inking deals with Big Publishing. Some decided to hold out for a better deal by waiting for the government to intervene anyway. We can admit that we expected that the Canadian government would oblige those few remaining voices, but the lack of reference in the Throne Speech suggests that maybe the government is seeing these deals getting inked and figured that the debate was privately settled.

Of course, as we pointed out earlier, large publishers are already complaining that the Google News Showcase pays too little and there’s too little traffic coming from this new feature. So, this does open up the possibility that Big Publishing in Canada will continue to press the government on implementing a link tax that is better than the deals they already inked with Google. For now, it seems that momentum has been slowing. Since this is a minority government, this suggests that there is a very real possibility that the link tax won’t be happening during this session.

So, looking at our previous predictions, it looks like we are two for three judging by the Throne Speech. The link tax seemingly not moving ahead is certainly a surprise for a lot of people, so it’s understandable that we might have been wrong on that one element.

Now, you might also recall that we also offered predictions on what you probably won’t see in the next government.

The first prediction was a push for increased competition in the Internet and cell phone industry. That didn’t make it into the Throne Speech. Still, that is a critically important issue that has held back the Canadian economy. You can’t start an online business if you have no reliable and reasonable Internet access. This long-standing issue has been called for for well over a decade and the list of reasons why this would have a very real and positive impact on Canadians across the country are vast. Unfortunately, it looks like the Canadian government has fulfilled our prediction and is expressing no interest on this front.

Another prediction is that the government will drop the push to lower Internet and cell phone bills. This is, of course, related to increasing competition in the Internet and wireless sector in that increasing competition would generally mean lower rates for Canadians. Canadians pay some of the highest cell phone rates in the world, even putting the notorious US market to shame in terms of high costs and lower quality of service (which many American’s would admit is an accomplishment). While this was widely promised and agreed upon by many political parties, it looks like our prediction (which might have come off as cynical at the time) came true in that the government is expressing little interest in rectifying this longstanding issue.

A third prediction we had is the fact that the Canadian government won’t really both with real privacy reform. There was that possibility that privacy reform would get introduced that wouldn’t really have an impact on the dire privacy situation Canadians have, so that’s why we predicted “real privacy reform”. Privacy reform, of course, has long been called for and is generally supported by pretty much every major political party. As a result, theoretical passage of such a law wouldn’t even be that hard. As we noted back in 2020, Big Business came knocking and shut that whole process down. So, unsurprisingly, our prediction about privacy reform not making a return is not only accurate, but it turns out that we were too optimistic as well.

The fourth prediction is related to the first two. We predicted that there won’t be a push to increase broadband access to rural and indigenous communities. This, of course, is badly needed because of major connectivity in large swaths of the country. This has been widely promised during the last election campaign. For those who are newer to politics, this might have suggested that something would finally get done about this critical problem. While COVID-19 makes the case that something needs to be done about this, that was likely never going to happen. Despite this being widely promised during the last election, it looks like this fourth prediction of it not happening is coming true based on the speech.

The final prediction we made is the fact that the Digital Charter would immediately get shelves once the election is over. While the Liberal party promised to revive this, we noted that this Digital Charter was long shelved during the last session of government. In short, the Liberals basically dusted this off, presented it to the public to give the impression that they care about your digital lives, and would ultimately shelve it once the election is over. As you can tell, there is absolutely no mention of a Digital Charter in the Throne Speech. So, it looks like we accurately predicted that as well.

So, all in all, we made 7 predictions about where the government is probably going to head. In all, 6 came true with only one not (and that surprised a lot of observers). That last one might not be entirely dead given that Big Publishing is getting increasingly restless with Google, so it is still possible that the movement to freeload off of “Big Tech” could still happen at a later time. It just looks like that is not going to be happening in the immediate future at the very least. In some ways, that is cold comfort considering what we got right, but it is a small victory at least.

Probably the only bit of good news is that it took so long for the Liberals to get the next government started. This delayed the potential damage they intend on inflicting in the digital rights world. Unfortunately, a delay doesn’t mean it’s permanently pushed into the future. Now, it looks like with government resuming, the war on the open Internet is now on is the Throne Speech is any indication.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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