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Bill C-10: assault on free expression

May 2, 2021

Socialist Worker/ is vitally interested in spreading socialist ideas. We try to highlight struggles – like that of the Rexplas strikers – that the mainstream media ignores. We try to hold political hacks like Doug Ford responsible for pretending to care about the public good while actually pandering to corporate interests. We try to discuss and debate the way forward with allies and friends. We try to organize events and protests based on those discussions. We do this without advertising, which might mean making politics subservient to commercial interests.

In all of this the internet, and the use of social media like facebook, twitter and other carriers, are a definite boon. But there is a constant struggle for the essence of the internet. Is it a monumental opportunity for people to communicate directly with each other, or just another business opportunity for the likes of Mark Zuckerberg.

So social media allows us to reach readers we wouldn’t otherwise meet. And it subjects our political content to algorithmic restrictions because it is antithetical to the profit motive of the owners and operators.

And now, with Bill C-10, tabled by the Trudeau Liberals, there is the threat of political censorship at the hands of the state entering the picture.

When it was first introduced in November, C-10 was all about regulating commercial streaming services like Netflix. Going forward they would answer to the CRTC, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. They would be required to provide Canadian content and contribute to funds designed to support domestic music, film and television production.

The original wording of the Bill explicitly stated that individual social media content would not be included. The Heritage Minister, Steven Guilbeault even bragged about the exclusion: “Our approach is balanced and we have made the choice to exclude a number of areas from the new regime. User-generated content will not be regulated.”

So alarm bells started to ring when the clause exempting “user-generated content” was removed as Bill C-10 approached becoming law.

In an embarrassing CBC TV interview, Guilbeault was reduced to a stammering mess trying to justify the change. They promise they won't use the law against individuals and non-commercial users. This is the party that promised to bring in electoral reform, remember?

Michael Geist is a law professor and expert in legal aspects of internet freedom. He is deeply concerned this constitutes an assault on freedom of expression. He told the CBC: “The kind of speech that many Canadians engage in on these platforms is just basic, fundamental freedom of expression that does not require, and should not be subject to, any sort of regulation or regulatory oversight by a broadcast regulator.”

Parliamentary opposition to Bill C-10 is unanimous. Unfortunately it has given the Conservatives an opportunity to pose as champions of free choice and expression. Rank right-wingers like Michael Cooper and Pierre Poilievre make pompous statements. The idea that these opponents of trans rights, gay marriage or a woman’s right to choose are suddenly champions of “freedom” is ridiculous.

We are glad that C-10 is in trouble and increasingly unlikely to pass through this minority government. But this kind of intrusion into our freedoms is just the kind of attack that the Tories would make if they were in government. The recent cooperation between Liberals and Tories to smash the rights of Port of Montreal workers reminds us how alike the two ruling class parties really are.

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