Canadians can choose to watch virtually anything from anywhere in the world online. And they can share virtually any opinion globally through their cellphone. It’s astonishing freedom.
But the federal government sees a problem. Canadians aren’t watching enough of the right stuff and sometimes they say the wrong things. So, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-10 to give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission more power to oversee what we’re watching and sharing to make sure it conforms to government-approved standards.
That raises a question: who watches the watchers? It’s supposed to be the responsibility of every Canadian to hold governments accountable. But Bill C-10 threatens Canadians’ ability to hold our politicians accountable by targeting our free speech online.
“Last week’s decision to treat all user generated content as a program subject to regulation by the CRTC was a giant step too far,” said Michael Geist a law professor at the University of Ottawa when explaining the implications of Bill C-10. “The CRTC will determine what terms and conditions will be attached to the speech of millions of Canadians on sites like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and hundreds of other services should the bill become law.”
Translation: Bill C-10 could put online content from news outlets, independent media and ordinary Canadians on social media under the microscope of unelected CRTC bureaucrats.
The door that the government is opening for regulators leaves many questions over how Canadians’ ability to hold government accountable will be affected.
What conditions would doctors have needed to meet to post a video recommending the use of homemade masks during the early days of COVID-19? How would regulators have viewed that application when that message wasn’t aligned with recommendations from Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer?
When the Canadaland podcast was doggedly investigating the WE Charity before it exploded into a scandal, would the spectre of dealing with the CRTC chilled that work?
It’s important to remember that governments and popular culture change. So even if you agree that certain positions should be censored today, what’s to say your perspective won’t one day be on the CRTC’s no-fly list? Would proponents of Bill C-10 have trusted Stephen Harper to wield it? What about Jean Chrétien?
To see how government intervention can play out in the real world just look to Alberta’s clumsy government public relations firm, the so-called oil and gas war room. It recently launched a campaign against a children’s cartoon on Netflix. Governments and good judgement aren’t always connected.
The onus is on the government to prove it’s not undermining our rights, but it’s doing exactly the opposite. The original clause within Bill C-10 that limited regulators from targeting individual’s posts was removed by the Liberal-controlled committee. In its place, the government is asking for blind trust that politicians and bureaucrats will use the bill’s power carefully.
Fortunately, opposition parties are speaking out.
“It’s important for people to have dissent, for people to express their opinions,” said New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh. “They might disagree with the government, they might want to critique the government. There should not be a limit on that. Those are very important things for democracy.”
“C-10 is nefarious legislation that gives too much power to the CRTC to regulate the internet and that does not provide clear guidelines on how this power will be used,” said Conservative critic Alain Rayes.
Bill C-10 provides the perfect opportunity for all opposition parties to come together and fight for government accountability and to defend the ability of all Canadians to speak truth to power.
Franco Terrazzano is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation