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Wait, so the allegations in The Globe story were true? Our sources were not partisan coup-plotters? The Globe’s reporters and editors are not credulous half-wits?

Or what else are we to conclude from the Trudeau government’s decision to expel a Chinese diplomat, Zhao Wei, shortly after The Globe reported he had been gathering information on family members of Conservative MP Michael Chong, a prominent critic of the Beijing regime, with the intent of making “an example” of him.

The Globe cited “a top-secret intelligence assessment” and an unnamed “national-security source,” as it has in several previous stories on Beijing’s wide-ranging attempts to interfere in Canada’s politics – much to the Liberals’ embarrassment. To now the government and its proxies have spent considerable effort trying to dismiss these as unimportant, or unreliable or both – hearsay! innuendo! – without specifically denying anything. That campaign is now presumably at an end.

The story, it is now admitted, was true. Mr. Chong’s family was being targeted. The Globe’s sources were right, and The Globe was right to report what they had to say – even if they remained unnamed. Had it not, the matter would never have come to light, Mr. Chong would never have been told, and no Chinese diplomat would be going home.

And yet even as the Liberal government was tacitly endorsing The Globe’s use of unnamed sources, the Liberal Party was busy demanding the practice be outlawed. Resolution 472 at the party’s national convention, passed without debate, calls on the government to “explore options to hold on-line information services accountable for the veracity of material published on their platforms and to limit publication only to material whose sources can be traced.” How very tidy.

Understand: the government has no more business “holding” anyone “accountable” for the “veracity” of anything. But the second part, urging the government to ban all material whose sources cannot be “traced” – material like, say, The Globe’s reports – is frankly chilling. Any crank can present a motion of course. But it was the party at large, the party in power, that passed it.

(And not only that: a second motion passed at the convention, Resolution 437, calls on the government to regulate the content of political campaigns via “truth in political advertising legislation,” decrying, without apparent irony, the absence of federal laws “to prevent politicians from deliberately misleading the public”).

It will never happen, Liberal officials hastened to assure everyone. The government “would never implement a policy that would limit freedom of the press or dictate how journalists would do their work,” a spokesperson added.

Why, heaven forfend! However did anyone get the idea that it would?

Perhaps it was a few weeks ago, when it came to light that a senior government official had pressured Facebook and Twitter in 2021 to remove links to a newspaper article on immigration, claiming it risked “undermining public confidence in … the integrity of the refugee determination system.”

Perhaps it was the revelation that, over the last three years, the government has made more than 200 similar attempts to censor social media.

Perhaps it is the current proceeding before the CRTC, in which the broadcast regulator is considering whether to ban Fox News from Canadian cable carriers.

Perhaps it is the recent passage of Bill C-11, which will expand the CRTC’s purview to include much of the internet as well: every audio or video streaming service, large or small, domestic or foreign, offering curated or user-generated content.

The best-case scenario is that this unworkable law is aimed only at the supremely pointless objective of promoting “Canadian content” on the web, at a time when it is awash in it. The worst case is the CRTC takes the same micro-managing approach to the internet, for whatever reasons enter its head, that it has to traditional broadcasting (see: Fox News ban).

Also in the works is Bill C-18, whose contribution to a free and independent press is to hook it up to the large social media platforms, who will be forced to “compensate” the news media for the crime of linking to our stories. Fortunately, the platforms seem to be embracing the “logic” of this proposal and ending the practice – or rather unfortunately, since they will no longer be sending readers to our pages by the millions, for free.

Still to come, the Online Harms Act, with whatever ill-judged new limits on free expression it brings. And hovering over all, the original sin of this government’s approach to the news media – and of the news media’s approach to the government – the tax credits and other subsidies for “Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations.”

Supposedly temporary, these now seem to be permanent, as anyone could have predicted: for having sought them so eagerly, we are not about to give them up, ever. As always, the tightest shackles are made of the purest gold.

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