NDP Backs Liberals In Bid to Shut Down Debate on Bill C-10

In a surprising move, the NDP has backed the Liberal party in shutting down debate over Bill C-10 that many say threatens free speech.

The Liberals have been taking quite a bit of heat over an amendment of Bill C-10 that removes a clause specifically excluding user generated content. Despite denials, documents suggest that the amendment introduced by the Liberals would mean the legislation would apply to user generated content.

It’s clear what the original intent of parts of the bill were. Essentially, the government wanted large tech giants to follow so-called “Cancon” requirements. Traditional radio and television are required to carry a certain percentage of Canadian content should they want to operate in Canada. The fear, rightfully so, was that American culture would simply swallow up the airwaves after, squeezing out Canadian made material and hamstringing the Canadian culture industry.

Of course, that is traditional outlets working with localized problems. The Internet is a world-wide medium. As a result, that is a much different platform altogether. If you are a content producer, you are ultimately trying to service a global audience and not just a localized Canadian audience. As a result, it made little sense trying to apply Canadian content rules on the Internet at all.

What lit up the debate is the fact that an amendment was introduced to basically cause the legislation to apply to all content on the Internet – be it large tech giant’s or your average YouTuber. Not only are you introducing Canadian content requirements poorly suited for the digital environment, but now you are extending those requirements to the small and medium sized producer on top of it all. That is where the criticism that this legislation introduces censorship has legs. Putting onerous Canadian content requirements will only serve to cripple most of the smaller players online.

Conservative’s will no doubt jump on this and say that this is part of an evil plot by the Liberal party to censor speech. The problem in that perspective is that this legislation also contains requirements of giving equal time to “both” sides of the political spectrum. If anything, conservative voices stand to get bolstered by this legislation if anything else (and that’s not including the Russian botnets already manipulating algorithms in their favor).

If anything, the legislation is less about an intentional plot against freedom of speech and more an idea brought about by ignorance and idiocy. That was put on full display by the Canadian Heritage Minister’s disastrous interview where it was painfully evident that he didn’t even understand the text of his own legislation. We already know that you basically have to throw everything you know about the Internet out the window just to justify the Canadian content regulation on the Internet in the first place.

A Conservative motion was tabled to have a Charter review of the new amendment. As unusual as that is, the move is actually quite understandable. If it’s just about asking if the legislation, in its current form, is still constitutional, then there isn’t any harm in that. That motion was shot down. Given Liberal’s habit of shutting down debate, it’s not a surprise that they voted against it. Perhaps the big eye-brow raiser, however, is the fact that the NDP backed that effort to shut down debate. From Michael Geist:

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage continued its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-10 on Friday. As reported in the National Post and iPolitics, the meeting featured a motion brought by Conservative MP Rachael Harder calling on the committee to suspend review of the bill until an updated review of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms implications can be conducted by the Minister of Justice in light of the removal of Section 4.1, that provided safeguards against regulating user generated content under the Broadcasting Act. The motion also calls on the Ministers of Justice and Canadian Heritage to appear before committee to discuss the issue.

The initial Charter statement, which is a requirement under the Department of Justice Act, specifically referenced the safeguards for user generated content in justifying potential limitations on freedom of expression. By removing one of those safeguards, the Conservatives reasonably argued that the bill had been fundamentally altered and that an updated analysis is needed.

The Liberal government was the one that established requirements for Charter statements to “ensure the rights and freedoms of Canadians are respected throughout the law-making process.” While the Liberals argue that the statements are not updated, given their emphasis on Charter compliance, it is discouraging to see its Members of Parliament – supported by the NDP – move to stop debate on the critical issue of freedom of expression and the Charter at committee.

This development is certainly significant for a whole number of reasons. Less surprising is that the Liberal government is attempting to shut down debate now that they know that people are figuring out what is going on. The more surprising aspect is the fact that the NDP is supporting this effort to shut down debate.

In all my years of writing, one of the constant themes has always been that the NDP has been supportive of the Internet, digital rights, and free speech. Whether it was backing the CMCC in 2006 to fighting bad copyright reforms to committing to capping cell phone and Internet bills and supporting the position of expanding rural and indigenous broadband during the last election. You could almost fill an encyclopedia of all the things the political party has done to support digital rights.

It’s not really surprising that the party has always been in favor of free speech. After all, political protest and the labor movement has been part of the party’s political DNA. With traditional airwaves backed by the business elite that supports either the Liberal or Conservative party, the only outlets that are not anti-NDP are smaller services exclusively online. So, it is purely logical that supporting online speech would be an obvious imperative for the party.

So, when the party effectively did a 180, reversing what seems like their entire political history to try and help the Liberal party push through legislation that would increase Internet censorship, you can’t help but do a double-take. Politically, it’s akin to the Conservative party saying that Trump supporters are total losers and their party must eliminate any traces of that with in their ranks and their grass roots. Anyone with a tiny sense of political knowledge would look at that and go, “wait, what?”

The only way that this move by the NDP could possibly politically make any sense is if they know that the legislation is terrible. Knowing this, they will help the Liberal party make this legislation so unpalatable, that the whole thing has no choice but to go down in flames if it comes to a vote, voting against it in the process. Even then, why even come close to risking freedom of expression online in the first place? It would be, at best, a bad play.

What’s more, one can’t help but ask, what changed with the NDP in the first place between the last election and now? What’s the deal of reversing 15 years of such a solid history of supporting the Internet all of a sudden? To simply cast this off as “NDP is simply the Liberal party lapdog” is, at best, a demonstration of total political ignorance on the digital rights front. The party fought against bad copyright laws and surveillance laws proposed by the Liberal party quite ruthlessly in the past.

To really put the “opposite day” cherry on top of this whole thing, it’s the Conservative party that is fighting against this legislation in the first place. Keep in mind, this is the same party that didn’t give a flying f-word about free speech when they pushed through anti-circumvention legislation during the Harper years of government. That was the same government where the party was made famous partly by the infamous incident of burning scientific books and research among other things. What is very likely happening is that the party’s unmatched drive for political opportunism actually managed to work out in the public’s favor – probably a political first in Canada.

At the end of the day, logic and reason here has gone straight out the window. With the exception of the continued war on the Internet by the Liberal party, nothing about this is recognizable. Nothing makes any sense in this timeline at all. There is still reason to hold out hope that this bill dies on the order paper and an election is called, but that all depends on how much this legislation gets fast-tracked.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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