Members of Parliament have passed Bill C-10, an update of Canada’s decades-old broadcasting regime, but Senators say the legislation needs more study and are declining to pass it quickly into law before Parliament’s summer recess.
The government promoted the legislation as a much-needed amendment to the Broadcasting Act. The bill aims to level the playing field by applying the rules for traditional broadcasters to streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Internet giants would also be required to offer certain amounts of Canadian content and contribute to its production.
The bill has sparked controversy, with freedom-of-expression advocates concerned it would also cover citizens’ social-media posts. The government says provisions in the legislation would ensure that doesn’t happen.
There has also been significant debate about how the new rules would work in practice, as a federal regulator moves to apply concepts such as Canadian content and discoverability to websites that operate much differently than traditional TV and radio stations.
Senator Donna Dasko, a member of the Independent Senators Group (ISG), said the bill needs a lot of work, and that it won’t pass before the Senate rises for the summer this week. She said MPs had months to work through the legislation, and “if they can have several months, we certainly need to have several weeks to study it.”
Ms. Dasko said she and other members of her group, which is the largest in the Senate, are “keen to work over the summer” to give this bill, and others, proper consideration. The Senate will get other legislation from the House of Commons this week, including the budget bill, she said, which is a higher priority than Bill C-10.
Several senators said the possibility of debating the bill in committee over the summer has been discussed, but no agreements had been reached as of late Tuesday.
Ms. Dasko sits on the Senate committee that would review the bill, along with Diane Griffin, a member of the Canadian Senators Group.
“I think a lot of senators are frustrated with [this bill] coming to us so late,” Ms. Griffin said. “When you see how much discussion it went through in the House of Commons, it’s a pretty good indication that it will also have to have a lot of discussion and study in the Senate. ... We can’t turn this around in a week. It would be immoral to do so.”
Paula Simons, an ISG member who has consulted broadly on the legislation, also said the bill requires detailed study because it raises fundamental issues about the future of broadcasting and the internet.
“There are so many stakeholders, there are so many rival and competing interests, there are so many existential questions about how, if at all, one attempts to regulate online media. This is not going to be a simple Senate study. This is going to be, you know, whatever the opposite of a rubber stamp is,” she said.
Bill C-10 was passed in the House of Commons early Tuesday morning in a vote of 196-112. Conservative MPs staunchly oppose it, arguing the removal of a clause that protected the rights of individuals to upload content such as videos to social-media sites means Canadians could fall under the new regulations. The government has said other amendments ensure people’s rights will not be threatened.
With Parliament set to break for the summer on Wednesday, and with a possible fall election looming, the government is rushing to pass important pieces of legislation. MPs have been working late into the night, and Monday’s sitting wrapped up around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Although many MPs voted remotely from home, Conservative MP Scot Davidson injected a moment of levity into the late-night proceedings when he voted against the bill from a boat on Lake Simcoe, in Ontario’s cottage country. (His office said the MP was returning from an Indigenous People’s Day event held by the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, which can only be accessed by water.)
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed frustration over the lack of co-operation in Parliament to pass key bills, a comment that could be viewed as laying the foundation for calling an election later this year.
“We have seen a level of obstructionism and toxicity in the House that is of real concern,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, the government gave formal notice of its plan to introduce another bill for regulating the internet. The notice says Justice Minister David Lametti will soon introduce proposed legislation to amend the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act in relation to “hate propaganda, hate crimes and hate speech.”
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