The Liberal government is promising amendments to its Broadcasting Act legislation that it says will address concerns that Ottawa is attempting to regulate Canadians’ social-media posts.
The pledge came after the Liberals and opposition parties were unable to agree on Monday how to proceed with the committee’s study of the legislation, known as Bill C-10. The Conservative Party has proposed suspending the proceedings until the government provides a new assessment of whether the legislation complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They’re also asking for Liberal Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who introduced the bill last November, to appear before the committee and take questions.
The committee unanimously supported an NDP amendment to the Conservative proposal that calls on the government to produce a new Charter assessment within 10 days, but MPs did not vote on the main Conservative motion. Liberal MPs delayed that vote, saying they hoped to privately persuade the Conservatives that the Charter review should happen only after all amendments are dealt with.
Bill C-10 would amend the Broadcasting Act to make internet streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube subject to the regulation of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the government says. This means they would have the same requirements as traditional broadcasters, such as promoting Canadian content and contributing financially to Canadian creators.
In April, Liberals on the committee amended the bill to remove a section that would have excluded user-generated content from the regulation. This change caused concern over the rights of Canadians to upload videos and other personal content to social media.
The Conservatives want a Charter assessment of the post-amendment document “given that Bill C-10 has been dramatically changed,” said MP Rachael Harder, who introduced the Conservative motion to pause the bill’s progress and seek clarification. She also added that the Liberals shouldn’t dismiss the questions about the modifications.
“Canadians have concerns,” Ms. Harder said. “It is incumbent upon us to make sure their rights are protected.”
Conservative MPs criticized Mr. Guilbeault during question period on Monday for his handling of the bill. The minister accused the official opposition of siding with large internet companies.
He later said in a statement that last month’s amendment was to address the fact that a section of the bill would have excluded platforms like YouTube when they act as music streamers.
“But we also want to make sure that the content that people upload on social media won’t be considered as programming under the act and that it won’t be regulated by the CRTC. And that’s why we will be bringing forward another amendment that will make this crystal clear,” he said.
Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin, who is the parliamentary secretary to Mr. Guilbeault, said the government decided to amend the bill last month in response to concerns from the Canadian music industry that YouTube could be excluded from the new rules.
“YouTube is the number one source of music for Canadians,” she said. “It makes no sense to exclude them, when they are in that space of curating professional content, to not treat them by the same rules and to put them within the Broadcasting Act, as we do with radio stations. That’s really what this comes down to.”
NDP MP Heather McPherson said she thought the Conservatives’ motion was reasonable, which is why she supported it. She said that while a conversation about freedom of expression is welcome, she’s not concerned that the amended bill infringes on the rights of Canadians posting content on social media. She added that the Conservatives are sharing misinformation about the bill and that their rhetoric is “intended to inflame the conversation.”
Ms. McPherson also said she’s frustrated by the committee’s lack of progress in the past week, and wants to see the bill move forward. “The ultimate result [of the delay] is that broadcasters in Canada will suffer,” she said.
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