A Charter review completed by the Justice Department has found that there are no concerns related to freedom of speech in the updated version of Bill C-10, which amends the Broadcasting Act.
The Justice Department examined Bill C-10 in its current form, including proposed amendments, and released the updated statement on how it complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms on Thursday.
The review happened at the request of MPs on the heritage committee, which is reviewing the bill. Opposition committee members asked for a new Charter statement after a Liberal amendment in April removed a section that excluded user-generated content from the legislation. This led to concerns that the Broadcasting Act could regulate Canadians’ social media posts, and as a result infringe on the right to freedom of speech.
Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that his party will vote against Bill C-10 regardless of the new Charter statement. “I am glad the Liberals have listened to our demands for a Charter review to changes they made to C-10,” he said, but went on to ask the government to withdraw the bill. Mr. O’Toole also said that if the bill is passed, a Conservative government would repeal it and introduce a new approach to regulate web giants and protect Canadian culture.
In Question Period shortly afterward, Deputy Opposition Leader Candice Bergen questioned the government on Bill C-10. “Can the Heritage Minister just admit that what these Liberals are trying to do actually has nothing to do with promoting Canadian content,” she said, “and everything to do with stifling free speech and expression?”
In response, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that freedom of expression is a pillar of Canada’s democracy. “I want to ensure all members of this House, and all Canadians, that our government will never limit freedom of expression,” she said. “That is not what this bill does.”
Committee members voted to pause their line-by-line review of the bill on Monday to seek a new Charter statement and hear testimony from ministers and experts. Thursday’s updated Charter statement concludes that the current form of Bill C-10, along with the proposed amendments, does not threaten freedom of speech.
“The Government has proposed amendments to Bill C-10 that would limit the ability of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to regulate an online undertaking that provides a social media service in respect of programs posted by its unaffiliated users,” reads the statement, later stating that the CRTC’s regulatory powers would be imposed on the social media service, “not on its unaffiliated users.”
The statement goes on to conclude that the relevant considerations from the initial Charter review “remain valid and these considerations are not impacted by the proposed amendments.”
The Department of Justice reviews every government bill to ensure it complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms before legislation is debated. An original Charter statement for Bill C-10 was tabled in November, a couple weeks after the bill was first introduced by Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault. Charter statements are not usually updated during a bill’s progress though Parliament.
Bill C-10 is meant to update the Broadcasting Act and level the playing field between traditional broadcasters and internet streaming giants, according to the government. It’s meant to ensure that streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify abide by the same rules that govern traditional broadcasters in Canada. That would mean they have to offer a certain amount of Canadian content, and contribute financially to Canadian production.
Earlier this month, Liberals on the heritage committee introduced new amendments that they said would put to rest any questions about the bill infringing on freedom of speech. The text of one of their amendments introduced last Thursday is very similar to the original Section 4.1, which was removed a few weeks before, though it is placed in a different section of the bill.
On May 11, Quebec’s National Assembly passed a unanimous motion supporting Bill C-10. The motion cited how the bill would ensure the promotion and protection of cultural content, a significant concern in Quebec.
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