Posted on May 3, 2021

Inside the Comprehensive Liberal Bill to Regulate the Internet

Tristin Hopper, National Post, April 29, 2021

After more than 25 years of Canadian governments pursuing a hands-off approach to the online world, the government of Justin Trudeau is now pushing Bill C-10, a law that would see Canadians subjected to the most regulated internet in the free world.

Although pitched as a way to expand Canadian content provisions to the online sphere, the powers of Bill C-10 have expanded considerably in committee, including a provision introduced last week that could conceivably allow the federal government to order the deletion of any Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or Twitter upload made by a Canadian. In comments this week, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh indicated his party was open to providing the votes needed to pass C-10, seeing the bill as a means to combat online hate.

The current state of the Canadian internet is far from a wild west: even an anonymous post can get you sued or imprisoned if it’s defamatory, infringes on copyright, violates Canadian hate speech laws or transmits illegal content such as child pornography. But Bill C-10 proposes to subject whole realms of the Canadian online world to content oversight from broadcast regulators, including podcasts, online videos and even the website on which you are currently reading this story.

Former CRTC commissioner Peter Menzies said in an interview that Bill C-10 “doesn’t just infringe on free expression, it constitutes a full-blown assault upon it and, through it, the foundations of democracy.”

Below, a look at what is fast becoming one of the most comprehensive peacetime attempts to redefine free expression in Canada.

Ottawa would be empowered to police social media

The draft text of Bill C-10 specifically included a clause exempting social media. {snip}


What the deletion means is that every single Canadian who posts to Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter or YouTube could be treated like a broadcaster subject to CRTC oversight and sanction. The users themselves may not necessarily be subject to direct CRTC regulation, but social media providers would have to answer to every post on their platforms as if it were a TV show or radio program.


Indeed, C-10 has been cheered by proponents specifically for its powers to silence online voices. “Now’s the time to finally finish (Ontario Proud founder) Jeff Ballingall, Ontario Proud, Canada Proud the rest of their ilk,” reads a recent pro-C-10 tweet from the anti-conservative Twitter account The Diefenbaker Project.

News, video games and even apps could be subject to new levels of government control


Bill C-10 essentially pledges to regulate online content as a “program.” And according to the original Broadcasting Act, a “program” is “sounds or visual images, or a combination of sounds and visual images, that are intended to inform, enlighten or entertain.” You’re off the hook if your content consists “predominantly of alphanumeric text,” but if your website has sounds and visual images you will henceforth be a “program” according to Bill C-10.

Basically, if your Canadian website isn’t a text-only GeoCities blog from 1996, Bill C-10 thinks it’s a program deserving of CRTC regulation. This covers news sites, podcasts, blogs, the websites of political parties or activist groups and even foreign websites that might be seen in Canada. In a Monday meeting of the Canadian Heritage committee, smartphone apps were also thrown under the Bill C-10 rubric, although the complete text has not been released to the public.

It’s not censorship, per se, but it’s close


But the ultimate effect of C-10 would be to plunge whole realms of independent media — from YouTubers to podcasters to bloggers — into an environment where they could face both a requirement for government registration as well as any number of CRTC content strictures drawn up without the need for additional legislation or oversight. As the bill’s official FAQ states, only after it becomes law will the CRTC decide “how it should implement the new powers afforded by the Bill.”


The penalties prescribed by Bill C-10 are substantial. For corporations, a first offence can yield penalties of up to $10 million, while subsequent offences could be up to $15 million apiece. {snip}