The Liberal government is moving to shut down debate on Bill C-10, the controversial legislation aimed at bringing online streaming services under the authority of federal broadcasting rules.
The legislation was introduced in November and it has been under review by the Canadian heritage committee since February. The Liberals are accusing Conservative MPs of filibustering the debate in an effort to prevent the House of Commons from approving the bill before the summer recess, which is scheduled to begin on June 23.
Bill C-10, which updates Canada’s Broadcasting Act, did not generate much controversy when it was introduced by the government. However, it suddenly became a lightning rod of criticism in April over a Liberal amendment that removed a section of the bill that said the new rules do not apply to “programs” uploaded by social-media users.
The government said this change was meant to ensure platforms such as YouTube would be regulated when they post professional content such as music videos, but several policy experts in the field warned the change opened the door to excessive federal regulation of social media and raised freedom-of-speech concerns. The Liberals have since amended the bill in an attempt to address those concerns, but critics were unconvinced.
Conservative MPs, who are strongly opposed to the bill, have been prolonging the heritage committee’s line-by-line review of the bill. The current pace of the committee’s work would mean it would not finish its review of the bill before the summer recess.
The committee only meets twice a week, and there are only 2½ weeks left before the last scheduled sitting day. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Friday afternoon. The government gave notice late Thursday that it would move a time-allocation motion as early as Friday that relates to the committee’s study of the bill.
“It is not clear why the Conservative Party of Canada has decided to back foreign web giants and ignore the needs of the Canadian culture sector,” Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a statement announcing the move. “But the Liberal government remains steadfast in its support of Canadian artists and creators.”
He urged members of the opposition parties to recognize the need to pass this bill and vote in favour of time allocation.
Conservative MP and Canadian heritage critic Alain Reyes condemned the Liberals’ plan to shut down debate.
“It’s shocking that the Liberals want to shut down debate when many experts expressed concerns over Bill C-10 which impedes the freedom of expression of Canadians online,” he said in a statement. “Only the Conservatives will continue to stand up for the freedoms of Canadians who post their content on social media.”
Mr. Reyes said his party supports creating a level playing field between large foreign streaming services and Canadian broadcasters and supporting Canadian arts and culture, but added that a Conservative government would do so without compromising Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms.
The government’s defence of the bill is that it will force platforms including Netflix and Amazon Prime to contribute financially toward the creation of Canadian cultural content, in a similar way to the existing rules that apply to traditional broadcasters.
Canada’s arts community is broadly supportive of the bill and has dismissed freedom-of-speech concerns as overblown.
The Bloc Québécois, NDP and Green Party are generally supportive of the Liberal bill, and the Bloc has offered to support procedural moves to fast-track the bill through the House of Commons and send it off to the Senate. Bloc MPs have been expressing concern that the Liberals have not taken them up on the offer.
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