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Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons, Feb. 3, 2020, in Ottawa. Bill C-10, originally introduced by Mr. Guilbeault in November, 2020, has faced concerns that it will curtail freedom of speech online.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Members of Parliament on the Canadian Heritage committee are suspending their line-by-line review of Bill C-10, which updates the Broadcasting Act, in order to hear new testimony from the Ministers of Justice and Canadian Heritage and other experts in response to concerns the bill will curtail freedom of speech online.

The committee is asking for the ministers and expert witnesses to testify and take questions as soon as possible. During Monday’s meeting, Liberal MPs recommended having the ministers appear on Friday, and the panel of experts at next Monday’s meeting.

The expert panel will be asked how the bill could affect freedom of speech, as well as the impact of the proposed legislation. It will consist of four expert witness, one chosen each by the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois – the parties with members on the heritage committee.

Liberals pledge new amendments to broadcasting act to address concerns over social media posts

At Monday’s meeting, Conservative MPs already raised the possibility of inviting University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist as an expert. Mr. Geist has been an outspoken critic of the bill, and his comments on the legislation are often cited by Conservative MPs.

When asked about the request during Question Period on Monday, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said he would be pleased to appear before the committee, adding that Canada’s cultural sector supports the bill. “We continue to stand with our artists and creators,” he said. “We look forward to the resumption of the committee’s work very soon.”

Conservative MP Rachael Harder responded by saying Mr. Guilbeault “makes things worse” every time he attempts to clarify the intent of the bill. “Why does the government continue to try to defend the indefensible?” she asked.

Bill C-10 was originally introduced by Mr. Guilbeault in November. The government says it’s meant to update the Broadcasting Act and make online streaming companies, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, abide by the same regulations as traditional broadcasters. That would mean they would have to promote and contribute financially to Canadian content.

The bill was amended in April to remove a clause that would have exempted user-generated content from the regulations, prompting concerns that the bill could pave the way for the government to regulate social media posts. The Liberals have since introduced new amendments, with similar wording to what had been removed in April, that they say will put such questions to rest.

“An individual who uses social media will never be considered a broadcaster under this bill. Any obligations will only apply to big streamers, not to Canadians,” said Liberal MP and committee member Julie Dabrusin, speaking to journalists on Monday.

“We remain committed to do everything in our power to level the playing field between creators and web giants, and require big, powerful streamers to provide information on their revenues in Canada, financially contribute to Canadian stories and music, and make it easier for individuals to discover our culture,” she said.

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