Week 1: Inside the Senate Schedule on Bill C-18 Hearings

A Senate committee is getting ready to study Bill C-18. We take you inside the forthcoming hearings just like Bill C-11.

Here we go again. If you remember from last year, we offered in-depth coverage of the Bill C-11 Senate hearings. It was long – much longer than I could have even imagined. Yet, we got a lot out of it. Much like the Bill C-11 Senate hearing, we will be happy to offer unmatched levels of coverage. After all, this could be part of the last stretch before we lose freedom of the press in this country. So, quite likely a moment for the history books.

As always, we are relying on the Senate schedule to find out what is coming up.

For April 25, we see the following:

Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada

The Honourable Konrad von Finckenstein, former Chair, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission As an Individual
Joelle Paré, Acting Director, Marketplace and Legislative Policy Canadian Heritage
Chris Pedigo, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs Digital Content Next
Isabelle Ranger, Director, Services Trade Global Affairs Canada
Thomas Owen Ripley, Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Cultural Affairs Canadian Heritage
Jean-Hugues Roy, Journalist and Professor, School of Media, Université du Québec à Montréal As an Individual

For those of you who are new to this, usually, these hearings are two hours long. However, they are typically split into one hour chunks. You have one set of witnesses for the first hour, then they reset for the second our with a different set of witnesses. There are instances where the a set of witnesses take up both hours, but if the Bill C-11 hearings are anything to go by, that isn’t all that common.

The other thing here is the fact that we don’t necessarily know where all the witnesses will end up. We can speculate on where the witnesses will end up, but that is generally just a guess. We could very well be surprised by how the witnesses are mixed together. In some hearings, people on one side of the debate can be separately heard before hearing from the other side of the debate in a separate hearing. In other hearings, both sides of the debate can find themselves squaring off with each other in the same hearing. We don’t really know how it will shake out in the end until the hearings actually take place.

With that said, we see from the above list a mixture of different witnesses. It’s actually a mix of what we saw in the Bill C-11 hearing and the opposite of what we saw in the Bill C-11 hearing. Specifically, we see a representative from Global Affairs. This is very similar to the Bill C-11 hearing where Global Affairs was among the first witnesses to be heard. During the Bill C-11 hearing, Global Affairs basically took a plug fingers in ear and scream “la la la, I can’t hear you” approach to all of the concerns raised by the American’s. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if they get asked about the letters, warnings, and all the evidence surrounding all the trade sanction threats and just shrug and say, “Oh, don’t worry about that. Being threatened by those south of the border is just normal course of business.” We could be surprised, but that’s sort of the expectation from our standpoint.

Thomas Own Ripley of Canadian Heritage is almost this sort of architect of Canada’s war on the open internet. Unlike virtually every other supporter of bills like this, Ripley actually isn’t an idiot with these things. It’s quite the anomaly in the debate to see someone who is not completely clueless with his surroundings, but you’ll very likely get that here. Instead, if his appearance with Bill C-11 is anything to go by, he will be very good at manipulating the text of the bill to try and expertly mislead people, so you really have to tread carefully with what he says and fact check everything carefully. In this case, unlike the last debate, Ripley appears to be at the front of the line instead of being the last person to be heard from. So, a reverse of what we saw in the Bill C-11 hearings.

Joelle Paré is also from Canadian Heritage. I don’t actually know anything about this individual. It’s quite possible Paré will serve as a sort of backup to Ripley. Obviously, Paré is going to be for this bill. The level of knowledge, however, is an unknown for me. Still, what I do find interesting is the lack of presence from the Minister of Canadian Heritage. It’s quite possible the Minister was sidelined given that he did a lot of self-inflicted damage during the Bill C-11 hearings. So, sidelining him, at least for now, was probably a strategic move as part of a way of mitigating the potential damage for this bill from the supporters side of things.

Konrad von Finckenstein has been a long running critic of Bill C-18. His concerns for the bill include the negative implications it will have on the CRTC and knows that the act of freely linking online is the foundation of the world wide web. If you want a quote from him about this, well, here it is:

Payment for links

Issue: The bill applies to any platform that makes news content available to Canadians, including merely facilitating access to news “by any means, including an index, aggregation or ranking of news content.” (It requires DNIs to negotiate payments for this activity). Linking clearly falls into this definition. In short, DNIs are required to pay for linking.

Points of concern:

  • The act expressly strips DNIs of any copyright limitation and exceptions. This includes fair dealing, which is what allows platforms and publishers of all kinds to include short snippets and quotes in publications, and provisions limiting the liability of information location tools (i.e., search engines) and hosting services. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that copyright limitations and exceptions are “user rights” integral to the balance of copyright law. By expressly stripping DNIs of all copyright limitations and exceptions, the bill denies DNIs access to basic rights under copyright.
  • The ability to freely link is foundational to the open web. It’s what enables journalists to link to others’ content and quote without obtaining permission. Everyone can link to websites, and no one is required to be paid for the privilege. The act suspends this basic right for DNIs and requires them to pay for something that no one else is required to pay for. This sets a worrisome precedent and could open the door to undermining net neutrality.
  • This provision is also most likely in violation of the USMCA. To avoid provoking a strong response from USTR, prior consultations and careful drafting is required.

So, really knows his stuff and will likely be opposed to a number of provisions in Bill C-18 – if not, opposed to the bill entirely.

Chris Pedigo of Digital Content Next? I honestly know nothing about him and quick searches aren’t necessarily conclusive as to where he stands on this issue.

Finally, that leaves Jean-Hugues Roy. A quick search turned up this article where he was seen peddling Bill C-18 related conspiracy theories where large platforms are somehow stealing from the media companies because they, er, allowed media companies to publish links to their news articles. He even went so far as to honestly believe that people only use Facebook for sharing news links (to which I’ll happily respond that I have a bridge to sell him). So, in all likelihood, we’re probably going to see more of the same from him during the hearings.

Moving forward, we also see on April 26th the following:

Bill C-18, An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada

We’re not sure if this entry is there as a placeholder for when witnesses are set to appear or if this means that there will be a general debate among just the committee members. We’ll, of course, keep an eye on that as we move forward, but we suspect that the witnesses for it simply aren’t displayed for whatever reason.

So, that is what we know about the witnesses for this coming week. When the video’s get published, we’ll be happy to offer our analysis just like last time. It’s going to be the start of what is no doubt a long process.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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