Three Critical Moments That Left Bill C-10 in Limbo

With Bill C-10 being stuck in a senate committee, we look back at three moments that arguably contributed to this bills downfall.

As we reported yesterday, the Canadian Senate adjourned without passing Bill C-10. To put into perspective just how close Canada came to killing off free speech online, all the bill needed to do was pass the legislation. That would effectively pave the way to making this bill law. With all the ups and downs along the way, this bill really could have gone either way. For digital rights advocates, the news that Bill C-10 won’t be passing before the Summer break is definitely a huge relief.

This bill certainly faced a lot of headwind along the way. Certainly, the absolute abysmal handling of the legislation by Heritage Minister, Steven Guilbeault didn’t help. On top of it all, there is the efforts to circumvent democracy through gag orders that even had some supporters of the legislation asking questions about the process. Unfortunately, what people thought about the legislation ultimately played a minor role in the process.

So, if the PR front didn’t play much of a role, what did? We decided to look back at three critical moments that ultimately led to the bills chances of passing before the break going down in flames.

The Removal of Section 4.1

For over a year, the legislation has been controversial. This through the push to regulate the Internet just like cable TV despite the obvious fact that the Internet is nothing like television. The vision, at the time, was that Internet websites should be licensed just like normal TV. This caused digital rights observers and organizations to cry foul over the legislation.

Of course, controversy ultimately didn’t blow up anywhere near like when Section 4.1 was removed back in April. When people, including us, raised the issue, it caught the attention of the Conservative party along with their supporters. The size of the debate grew from the relatively small tech policy corner into a much larger movement. Conservatives, of course, were trying to utilize this backlash to their political advantage. Still, for the movement, it was hard to say no to some added political muscle on this important issue. While this led to hardcore Liberals to paint everyone with the same brush by calling every opponent Conservative, there’s no question that this pushed the story squarely into the political spotlight.

News organizations like the CBC tried putting the Heritage Minister in front of the camera’s to try and temper the criticism only to see this effort blow up in their faces. In the weeks since, many major outlets simply dropped the story knowing it’s a non-starter for the Liberal Party.

Still, that didn’t temper the flames of this dumpster fire. Critics moved on to social media to vent their anger and get the latest news on this story. We, of course, helped provide that where so many outlets simply chose not to cover the story. Digital rights organizations and creators alike kept up the pressure to push for the demise of Bill C-10. Ultimately, the damage was done by this move. Everyone knew what effect Section 4.1’s removal was.

This led the government to try to, at least, backpedal by saying that they would introduce an amendment to make it “crystal clear” that user generated content would not be affected only to later double-down on this crackdown. The hope, obviously, was that people would simply take the Liberals at their word and not bother to fact checking. This move backfired. Still, with increasingly less media attention, it seemed that the attitude of the Liberal party was to just ignore the criticism and pretend it’s not even there. That let to the Liberals, Bloc, and NDP to vote down user generated content protection not just a second time, but a third time as well. Questions about this legislation, as a result, kept floating around.

The Speaker of the House Smacking Down Bill C-10

As time started running low, the gag orders and even a super motion was utilized to make this legislation law. For the Liberal’s, democracy become increasingly just an obstacle to pass this legislation. So, any debate or questions (or accountability for that matter) needed to be stamped out wherever possible. The ultimate goal is to just have this legislation rubber stamped. This, what many called, “arrogance” burned both Guilbeault and the Liberal party.

Half way through June, Anthony Rota, the speaker of the House of Commons, in response to a complaint, rose in the House of Commons and struck the secret amendments down and ordered a reprint of the legislation. With just mere days left in the sitting schedule, the idea that this legislation will need more time for debate presented what ultimately turned out to be an insurmountable obstacle. One can only imagine the screaming (internal or external) was going on by the Heritage Minister upon hearing the news.

The amount of time being asked here is time this legislation simply didn’t have. As it was, it was going to be something of a small miracle that this legislation was getting passed. Debating every amendment that was secretly previously passed in a secret rushed process alone threatened to eat up the remaining time. So, if gag orders worked (sort of) in committee, more gag orders were in order to crack down on this terrible democratic process thing. The determination to crack down on free speech will never be deterred here, after all. Still, determination or not, this still soaked up time for this legislation.

The “Insulting” Introduction of Bill C-10 in the Senate

With time running out and a speaker that just struck the bill down, panic no doubt set in if it hadn’t already for the Minister. So, the Minister apparently chose to “introduce” the legislation to the senate. This despite the fact that the legislation was just barely introduced into the House of Commons. Senators responded by calling the move insulting. Some senators remarked how the Minister was arrogant in assuming that the Senate would just rubber stamp the legislation for him. As we noted at the time, it is generally counterproductive to burn the bridges with the very people you are hoping to pull strings for you.

While the Heritage Minister ultimately got what he wanted in the House after extending hours and passing Bill C-10 at 1:30AM, the fact that senators were losing patient on this one likely was the final straw. Senators raised various issues with the legislation including the very concerns expressed by us in a previous article. The mood was that the senate needed to study this bill further – not the response Guilbeault was hoping for.

Bill C-10 Stalls in the Senate

As we all know now, Bill C-10 was sent to a senate committee, ultimately stalling the legislation. The senate then adjourned and Bill C-10 ultimately failed to pass before the break. While this is not truly the end of the story yet, it puts Bill C-10 in a highly precarious place. If speculation turns out to be true, then an election will get called before the break is over. Should that happen, then the legislation will die. If an election is called, then the Senate will return after the break where they will study this legislation in the senate. The process continues.

At any rate, the legislation, from what we can tell, is almost completely out of Guilbeault’s hands. Apart from speaking to people behind the scenes, or fundraising from lobby groups that were pushing to regulate user generated content, there’s nothing much more that can be done. All the time extensions the Minister was able to win have all well and truly run out. The best that he can hope for is that no election is called at this stage. Otherwise, the process will have to start all over from square one.

At any rate, the stalling of Bill C-10 is definitely a huge moment for free speech opponents. While this has been a difficult and trying time for them, this hard fought victory is well deserved. The battle was won, though everyone knows that the war is not over. So, the situation will definitely have to be reassessed come Fall.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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