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After criticism over Bill C-10, Liberals vow to make it clear CRTC won't regulate social media posts

National Post logo National Post 2021-05-04 Anja Karadeglija
Steven Guilbeault standing in front of a television screen: Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault speaks via videoconference during question period in the House of Commons Monday, May 3, 2021. © Provided by National Post Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault speaks via videoconference during question period in the House of Commons Monday, May 3, 2021.

The Liberal government is promising to change broadcasting Bill C-10 following a week of controversy that an amendment to the legislation infringes Canadians’ rights to free expression.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said a new amendment would make it “crystal clear” that social media posts by Canadians would not be subject to regulation by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Guilbeault said the government wants “to make sure that the content that people upload on social media won’t be considered as programming under the [Broadcasting Act] and that it won’t be regulated by the CRTC.”

Critics who had sounded the alarm over the bill expressed caution over Guilbeault’s move.

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist said Guilbeault’s announcement Monday came after the minister had been arguing the amended bill did not affect user-generated content.

He said Guilbeault was now acknowledging “what was obvious, namely that government changes resulted in regulating the content of millions of Canadians. Many will be waiting to see what is proposed this time as the government tries to patch up a deeply flawed bill.”

On April 23, the Heritage committee removed an exemption for user-generated content from C-10, the bill that updates the Broadcasting Act and sets up the CRTC to begin regulating online companies like Netflix.

Experts feared the exemption would bring online posts by Canadians, including video posts on social media like YouTube and TikTok, under the CRTC’s authority.

Earlier Monday, Liberal MPs on the Heritage committee agreed to send Bill C-10 back to the justice minister for a second review of the bill’s compliance with charter rights, despite shutting down debate on that motion Friday.

Parliamentary secretary Julie Dabrusin told reporters Monday the government still believed the bill didn’t infringe free expression rights. “There’s no change on the view that we’re not concerned about the freedom of expression aspect. It’s just if it provides greater comfort to get the charter review, then so be it, get the charter review,” Dabrusin said.

On Friday, a Conservative motion in the Heritage committee asked to send the bill back to the justice minister to issue an updated “charter statement.” Charter statements are issued by the justice minister and review the impact government bills could have under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The initial charter statement for C-10 specifically cited the exemption for user-generated content that was removed.

Conservative MP Rachael Harder called for the committee’s clause-by-clause consideration of the bill to be suspended until after it had received an updated charter statement and until the heritage and justice ministers appeared at committee to answer questions about the amended bill.

The Liberals on the committee, backed by the NDP, voted Friday to shut down that debate. Over the weekend, NDP MP Heather McPherson defended the amendment in a TV appearance, saying C-10 had other safeguards protecting Canadians.

But then at Monday’s Heritage committee meeting, McPherson proposed an amendment to the Conservative motion, calling for the charter review and minister’s committee appearances to happen within 10 days.

Dabrusin proposed the committee wait until the committee had finalized amendments to the bill — more than 100 have been proposed by the various parties — before it sent it to the minister. “A charter review halfway through is not a proper charter review,” she said.

The committee didn’t vote on the motion or the Dabrusin’s amendment Monday. That vote is set to happen when it meets again on Friday afternoon, though Dabrusin indicated the government wanted to agree on a compromise before then.  “I would suggest that we actually take some time, we have until Friday, to talk among the parties and see if we can arrange for resolution,” she said.

Critics of the legislation were not convinced the latest moves would fully address their concerns.

“At this point anything that provides for a pause and sober reflection is welcome,” former CRTC commissioner Peter Menzies said in an email. “But if all that comes out of it is deflection and further name-calling, it won’t help. The problems with C-10 are fundamental.”

Geist, who has said the best course of action would be to scrap the bill and start over, said the committee should have moved to the charter statement immediately.

“The solution lies in stopping [clause-by-clause] review until an updated assessment can be conducted and the responsible ministers can respond to questions about the changes,” Geist wrote in an email.

He added “it’s hard to understand why the Liberals instead chose to delay moving rapidly to a charter review.”

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