Speaker of the House of Commons Voids Secret Bill C-10 Amendments

The speaker of the House of Commons has voided the secret amendments that were voted on in committee. He says the committee exceeded its authority.

It’s been one long string of bad news stories on the Bill C-10 front. First, the Liberals, backed by the Bloc and NDP, successfully shut down debate in committee. After that, they put numerous amendments up to a vote. Those amendments were not available to the public and, instead, shrouded in secrecy. After that, the legislation itself was put to a vote. The legislation was passed, but again, not made available to the public.

All weekend, the bill was kept behind closed doors before, finally, on Monday, the bill was made public. With talk that the Liberals will push for another rushed process in the House of Commons, it was reasonable to assume that the legislation was going to get whisked through the House of Commons before reasonable debate could be had. So, we quickly put together an analysis of the legislation, fearing that the legislation would otherwise be passed before anyone could even get a chance at reading what is inside the legislation.

While we were able to quickly push through the legislation and offer an analysis, it seems that things have changed. Recently, the Speaker of the House of Commons rose and made a ruling on an objection over the process. He ruled that the committee exceeded its authority in shutting down debate and passing those secret amendments. From CTV:

The federal government’s efforts to push through its controversial Broadcasting Act Bill C-10 in the final days of the sitting may have been dealt a setback by the Speaker of the House of Commons Tuesday, when he slapped down a series of last-minute amendments.

In his ruling, Speaker Anthony Rota found that the committee “exceeded its authority” by passing the amendments after the House-imposed time limit on further work by the committee had expired.

As a result, he’s ordered that all but one of the changes passed after their deadline be struck from the version of the bill currently before the House. The one amendment Rota has let stand was connected to a previously-adopted change to the wording of the legislation.

While the Liberal minority did have Bloc Quebecois and NDP backing in moving the bill’s study to completion, both opposition MPs and critics of the bill have raised concerns with the way the nearly three dozen amendments were handled, saying little could be known about the changes made given the they were moved through without being fully disclosed or debated.

“I proposed to extend the deadline so more work could be done. I voted against closing debate and I even put forward a motion asking the committee to debate the bill through the summer months so we could get this work done. All the parties voted against that. In the end, the Liberals closed the committee debate and we were forced to vote on amendments without even discussing them. It is not my idea of good government,” said NDP MP and committee member Heather McPherson in the House on Monday.

The Speaker’s ruling came in response to a challenge to the admissibility of the amendments, raised by Conservative MP Blake Richards on Monday.

Reacting to the ruling, Conservative MP and committee member Alain Rayes noted that the Liberals were backed by the Bloc and NDP in moving ahead the amendments at committee despite their time being up, and said it’s “just the latest example of how the Liberals have completely botched this bill.”

For those who believe in free speech, this is hugely relieving. It’s the first time some kind of reprieve happened in the first place. As a result of this ruling, the amendments will now, no doubt, be brought back to the House of Commons for a vote where they can actually be debated. That, of course, will take time – and any time that delays this legislation is good news for those that produce content online and users who check out user generated content. This also increases the chances that the legislation will actually time out should an election be called in the Fall. If that happens, then the legislation, like so many surveillance bills and Canadian DMCA attempts of yesteryear, will die on the order-paper.

Michael Geist, of course, chimed in with his own thoughts on the matter:

While the government has already tabled new motions in the House of Commons as it seeks to bring back the amendments, the Speaker ruling has several consequences. First, opposition MPs from all parties have also re-introduced their amendments. For example, the Conservatives have introduced a motion to bring back Section 4.1, the provision designed to safeguard user generated content that was removed by the government. In doing so, all MPs will now have to take a position on the issue as part of a vote. In all, there are now 22 motions before the House on Bill C-10, calling into question the viability of the government’s attempt to limit debate at this stage to just one hour. Moreover, the government is also seeking time allocation on another bill (Bill C-12) and has hours of debate left on its budget bill.

Second, the Speaker’s ruling provides an important reminder of how the government and Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs were willing to overrule the committee chair and proceed to vote on undisclosed amendments without any debate, discussion or experts available to answer questions. The Speaker’s ruling points out how rare the gag order was to begin with:

As was recently pointed out, we have few examples of time allocation motions applied to committee consideration of bills. Until last week, we had no example of such a motion being adopted since February 2001, when the House made important Standing Order modifications in regard to committee consideration of bills and the selection of report stage motions. There are few precedents involving the imposition of such an order on a committee.

That vote led to the following ruling from the Speaker:

I therefore rule that the committee exceeded its authority by putting the question on amendments after the five-hour mark. However, in the list of amendments made to clauses 8 to 47, the Chair notes that the amendment made to clause 23, which added text to line 7 on page 20 and replaced line 8 on page 24 of the bill with new text, was the consequential result of an amendment previously adopted by the committee to clause 7 of the bill. Accordingly, this amendment will stand.

All other amendments made to clauses 8 to 47 are declared null and void, and will no longer form part of the bill as reported to the House. In addition, I am ordering that a reprint of the bill be published with all possible haste for use by the House at report stage to replace the reprint ordered by the committee.

Finally, with respect to the amendment that created new clause 13.1, I would agree with the member that this modifies a section of the Broadcasting Act that was not covered by Bill C-10. As such, it is a violation of the “parent Act” rule and it goes beyond the scope of the bill. Consequently, it is also declared null and void and will not form part of the bill. Report stage, the next step in the legislative process for this bill, will accord an opportunity for amendments to the bill to be made.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and the government can undo the Speaker ruling by bringing back the null and void amendments for a vote, but the government, the Minister and the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Heritage committee MPs cannot undo their embarrassing conduct in which they sacrificed democratic principles for the sake of rushing through Bill C-10.

Obviously, with a new version of the bill being ordered, we’ll have to get a new analysis of the legislation. After all, the version of the bill we analyzed will likely no longer accurately reflect what is in the bill now. At least, for now, we’ll have time to sit down and look through the legislation instead of feeling the pressure of a time crunch while doing so. If others feel like running their own analysis of the legislation, all the better. Knowledge of what legislation actually does is everything in debates like this.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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