A Genuine Risk the Government Will be Tempted to Use its Filtering Powers to Silence its Critics
OTTAWA – The chorus of Canadians from all walks of life calling on the Senate to kibosh the Trudeau government’s censorship bill is growing louder by the day. Last week, a letter from over 40,000 Canadian content-creators urged senators to reject Bill C-11 in its current form, sounding the alarm on what they see as a very dangerous piece of legislation.
From day one, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, the government’s point person on C-11, has claimed his legislation is designed to support Canadian content creators, saying it will “will help make sure that our cultural sector works for Canadians and supports the next generation of artists and creators.” He should have asked content creators before making that claim!
In a letter sent to every member of the Senate, Digital First Canada, a group representing tens of thousands of small-time Canadian content creators, warned that Bill C-11 could kill the careers of the very artists the Trudeau government claims it wants to help. “Right now, our livelihoods are at risk,” reads the letter. And it notes that the government rammed Bill C-11 through the House of Commons without any room for debate or amendments. “Earlier this year, over 40,000 creators and users raised our voices in the House and through letters to defend our digital businesses against these changes. We were ignored.”
So much for having the backs of Canadian artists.
Major companies like Google and YouTube have also come out forcefully against Bill C-11, warning that Canadian consumers will be force-fed government-approved content. Google, partnering with Open Media, notes that Canadians’ favourite content “could be systematically downranked in favour of content that the CRTC deems ‘Canadian enough,’ according to their wildly outdated 1980s-era criteria.”
YouTube is issuing a similar message. If Bill C-11 is “put into practice, this means that when viewers come to the YouTube homepage, they’re served content that a Canadian Government regulator has prioritized, rather than content they are interested in,” YouTube’s chief product officer wrote in a recent blog post.
Some groups claiming to represent creators, like the Canadian Independent Music Association, have come out in favour of the legislation. But these groups need to think through the legislation’s implications. Even if Bill C-11 helps them find a little more success here at home, and there’s no guarantee of that, it could be detrimental to any success beyond Canada’s borders.
Rather than accepting an overwhelming amount of constructive criticism, Rodriquez has doubled down on his rhetoric, claiming companies like Google are simply “trying to intimidate Canadians.” He couldn’t be more wrong. Companies like Google are trying to warn Canadians about the harm C-11 will inflict on Canadian producers and consumers.
Tasked with salvaging a bad piece of legislation, Rodriguez seems to think name-calling and finger-pointing are the government’s only real line of defence in promoting Bill C-11. If he had a stronger message to deliver to Canadians, we would have heard it by now. Little wonder the government is resorting to rhetoric over substance.
Initial concerns about Bill C-11 also remain. If government bureaucrats get to choose what content to push on Canadians, there’s a genuine risk the government will be tempted to use its filtering powers to silence its critics.
With Bill C-11 now in the Senate, members of Canada’s upper house have an opportunity to at least give the bill the scrutiny it ought to have had when it was before the House of Commons. And so far, senators on the transport and communications committee have heard from dozens of witnesses warning about the dangers of C-11. With widespread opposition to the bill coming from all corners of the country, the Senate should do more than simply amend the legislation. Senators should refuse to pass the bill altogether.
Given the scale of the opposition to C-11, the government may even be relieved to see it go.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario & Interim Atlantic Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.