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:
— Pundit Class (@punditclass) April 30, 2021
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:
You will not believe what just happened during Question Period in the House of Commons.@S_Guilbeault simply could not have been more crass and despicable trying to defend his indefensible censorship Bill C-10
— Mr. Surveillance ?? (@surveilz) May 3, 2021
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:
Who will be subject to discoverability regulations under C-10? People with large followings? What?s the threshold? @s_guilbeault responds.
— CTV Question Period (@ctvqp) May 9, 2021
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.