The Stunning Inability Of Canada's Heritage Minister To Answer Questions About His Internet Regulation Bill

from the not-very-reassuring dept

We’ve written about Bill C-10, the Canadian government’s attempt to bring online services under the auspices of the country’s broadcast regulator, the CRTC, and the way the story about the bill keeps shifting and the promises about what it supposedly won’t do keep being broken.

Now, work on the the bill has been paused after lawmakers from all four parties voted to ask the Department of Justice for a fresh analysis of its legality under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They’ve also asked for the bill’s champion, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, and others to come before the committee and discuss its implications. But Guilbeault has consistently demonstrated a total inability to give clear answers (or, sometimes, any answers at all) to questions people raise about their concerns with the bill. This has been made “crystal clear” (a term Guilbeault has wrongly applied to the muddy and vague bill itself) by some of his responses over the past couple of weeks.

First, at the end of April, Guilbeault was pressed for details in an interview on the CBC, with host David Common asking why the exclusion for social media content was removed from the bill and how the Minister can still claim it won’t be impacted (you can watch the full interview here). As you can see, his answer — inasmuch as it constitutes an answer — is not very convincing:

Why won’t Bill C-10 impact user content on social media? Because they’re “not interested” in doing that and it’s not the bill’s “purpose”. Oh and also the bill isn’t finished. The fact that an exclusion to specifically prevent regulation of social media was removed is, apparently, irrelevant. The powers granted by the actual text of the bill are, apparently, irrelevant. The idea that regulators would use the regulatory powers given to them by the bill “has no basis in reality”. Just trust him.

Not convinced? Well, a few days later in the legislature, Guilbeault was pressed by an opposition Member of Parliament on the free expression implications of the bill, and he gave even less of an answer:

Yes, you saw that — Guilbeault immediately pivoted to the completely unrelated topic of reproductive rights and lobbed accusations of hypocrisy at the questioner. Those accusations might not be entirely baseless, but they are entirely irrelevant to this subject that is of extreme importance to all Canadians, not just those on the opposite side of the political aisle from Guilbeault. The Minister also accused another MP of lying about the bill, and was reprimanded in the House of Commons and pressed to withdraw his statement. The Liberal party would very much like it if people viewed opposition to Bill C-10 as a purely partisan effort coming from disingenuous and dishonest opposition politicians, but nothing could be further from the truth.

But Guilbeault’s evasiveness and foundering doesn’t stop there. The latest interview (watch the whole thing here), in which he changed his previous story and stated that the bill will enable the regulation of users on platforms like YouTube, might be the worst one yet:

Guilbeault manages to contradict himself in a matter of seconds. After the understandably frustrated interviewer presses him, yet again, on his promises that the bill won’t regulate social media users, he emphatically insists “individuals are exempt from this la-“ and can’t quite make it to the end of the word “law” before cutting himself off to say “or will be, once it’s adopted”. Then, in the very next sentence, he says that the bill will apply to individuals who “act like broadcasters” then vaguely asserts that such people are somehow completely distinct from “everyday citizens”. As we discussed in the previous post, he then goes on to be completely unable to clarify how this line would be drawn. And then, the next day, he backtracked these comments and made more insistent promises that users will not be regulated.

Even Canadians who know very little about the subject of online regulation are noticing how desperate and vague Guilbeault gets every time he’s pressed for details, and are unimpressed by his obviously evasive deflections in parliament. Now even MPs from his own party are seeking answers. If the government is going to do what it should and toss out C-10 to start over with a brand new bill, it also needs to find a more capable and trustworthy champion for it.

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Comments on “The Stunning Inability Of Canada's Heritage Minister To Answer Questions About His Internet Regulation Bill”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Spin that web Guilbeault, spin that web

Strange really, honest people tend to have little to no problem clearly articulating their position/arguments and defending it on the merits since none of that changes and they don’t feel the need to obfuscate, I wonder if that has anything to do with his inability/refusal to be clear about his position/bill…

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Anonymous Coward says:

It’s not stunning when you consider the track record for the people introducing such bills. Like the people who insisted that Article 13/17 would not require mandatory Internet filters… until they admitted that the laws would, in fact, require mandatory Internet filters. It’s just lie lie lie until they think it’s no longer politically inconvenient to admit to the truth of their plans.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Why am I not surprised?

Politician: "I have introduced a bill which will cure cancer and scrofula like the touch of the kings of mythical yore, fix the deficit, regulate public spending, and heal society of every ill imagined since biblical times"

Journalist: "So, tell us of this bill. Can you summarize it?"

Politician: "Uuhh…it’s…a good bill…? It has all the best words in it! I think?"

On a more serious note I recall a bunch of years back a journalist found that one surefire way to find out if a given politician had written their own bill or just presented one they had received pre-written from a lobby organization was whether that politician even knew what was in it.

This is an issue – and a cripplingly serious one – even in countries which aren’t as vulnerable to fiscally incentivized politicians, because when a lobbyist can just drop a few hundred pages worth of legislation to be signed along with a brief three-pager summarizing how you should spin it to make it sounds good on top of the desk of a given politician…then what you have isn’t democracy.

In the best of all possible worlds (heh) journalists would go after politicians obviously incapable of discussing the details of their own bills like wolfs after red meat and the public never place that particular bought bastard in office ever again.

But that’s obviously not the world we live in.

BernardoVerda (profile) says:

Re: Why am I not surprised?

"Heritage Minister" tends (mostly) to be a sort of on-the-job-training or apprenticeship position, that gives newcomers a chance to prove they have what it takes for a "more important" portfolio.

And historically speaking, it’s clear that less competent Heritage Ministers have tended (whether through disinterest, corporate supineness or just simple gullibility) to uncritically forward unchallenged the wish-list proposals of entertainment industry lobbyists.

At this point, whenever a new face appears at the Heritage Minister’s desk, my preliminary working assumption is that the minister concerned is an incompetent, who has been given a "ministerial" position for internal political considerations — though it’s always possible that they’re simply inexperienced and being given a chance to prove to their colleagues that they can learn and perhaps show themselves sufficiently capable to be advanced to a responsible position, eventually, after all.

The current Heritage Minister appears to be failing this test (which seems to be the usual outcome for those in this role).

Anonymous Coward says:

Canadians need to take a look at what happened in the EU with the various extra laws broughjt in that wouldn’t affect the public, wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t do that! as soon as they were brought in, the public found themselves to be drastically affected! the biggest winners out of these various ‘you can do this but not that’ laws are governments and security forces, both of which will be spying even more on people than they are already, then add in the Entertainment Industries, because they want to be the one that gives permission to people to do only what they are allowed to by the industries, for a price, wiping out the whole purpose of the Internet completely. it was meant to be a means of finding all information about everyone/everything but when the rich, famous, politicians and all their friends were shown to be total lying assholes, they didn’t like it. it was/is fine while they all watch every single aspect of our lives, searching for more ways to enslave us, while taking as much from us as possible, but we mustn’t learn anything at all about their dealings or their fuck-ups!

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