Mr. Chair, I wish to move a point of order. It has come to my attention that this committee was provided with a charter statement from the , and that this charter statement was prepared on the bill based on its original form on November 3.
At that point in time, our party was largely in favour of making the proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act and other acts in order to modernize them and create a level playing field between streaming services like Netflix and the Canadian broadcasters, and the 's charter statement was in good standing. However, that was before the bill was amended, and as you know, there are some significant changes that have since taken place.
One of the things that was stated in the 's charter statement was that, and I quote, “clause 3 would specify that the Act does not apply in respect of programs uploaded by unaffiliated users [for example, you and me] to social media services for sharing with other users, and in respect of online undertakings whose only broadcasting consists of such programs.”
When the bill was amended, however, to remove clause 3—the portion that I just read his opinion on—the entire scope of the bill was changed. Given that the entire scope of the bill has now changed with the removal of that clause, the statement no longer stands as accurate.
Last Friday, those changes were made, taking away the protection for individual users—again, such as you and me—for the things we post on Facebook, the things we post on YouTube, the things an aspiring artist posts and the cat video that my grandmother posts in order to share with her friends and engage with them. When this change was made, it removed the protections that were once offered to individuals who use these platforms.
Mr. Chair, I understand that this committee is doing, I believe, its best to get through this legislation quickly and to move it to a point that it can be voted on in the House of Commons. I believe, however, that there are some things that need to be considered before getting to that point.
As I've outlined previously, clause 3, or proposed section 4.1, was removed from the legislation last week. When that took place, the nature of this bill changed.
There is a charter statement that was provided by the justice department under the name of the . That charter statement determines whether or not this piece of legislation, Bill , would be in agreement with or within the purview of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That statement is now null and void, because a significant portion of the bill was removed last week. That being the case, I believe this committee needs to seek another statement with respect to the charter and whether the charter rights of Canadians are in fact being respected within the new outline provided within this bill.
I would draw the committee's attention to a few opinions or viewpoints that have been offered by experts. Most notably, former CRTC commissioner Peter Menzies said that this legislation “doesn't just infringe on free expression; it constitutes a full-blown assault upon it and, through it, the foundations of democracy.”
Mr. Chair, that is an incredibly damning statement in regard to this piece of legislation as it stands now, because that clause was removed last week. That being the case, I believe this committee needs to take the responsibility of seeking another charter statement.
The argument has been made by some members at this table—and by other members of the governing party when this has been raised in the House of Commons during question period—that Canadians shouldn't worry; that there would never be an imposition on their freedom and what they post on social media.
At the end of the day, however, if it's not there, it's not there. In other words, if the protection isn't granted, then there's no protection. It's that simple. If the protection is not outlined in this legislation, then there is no protection for Canadians.
We're talking about a regular component of their daily lives. We're talking about a video they post of their cat, about a video they post of their kids, about a conversation they're having with a friend on a social media platform. This is a new form of public square, and based on the charter, our right to freedom of expression should not be imposed upon.
I would argue, and many other experts have argued, that they are being imposed upon. That being the case, I believe we need to seek a new charter statement based on this legislation as it stands now.
I want to move a motion for this committee's consideration. If I may, I would like to read it into the record.
That, given that the deletion of section 4.1, clause 3 of Bill C-10, would extend the application of the Broadcasting Act to programs uploaded by users of social media services, which in turn could violate paragraph 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
and given that the current “Charter Statement” required under section 4.2 of the Department of Justice Act with respect to the potential effects of Bill C-10 directly states that “users of social media who upload programs for sharing with other users and are not affiliated with the service provider will not be subject to regulation” as part of its argument that Bill C-10 respects section 2(b) of the Charter, the committee:
(a) request that the Minister of Justice produce an updated “Charter Statement” under section 4.2 of the Department of Justice Act with respect to the potential effects of Bill C-10, as amended to date, on the rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
(b) invite the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Justice to appear before the committee to discuss the implications of Bill C-10, as amended to date, for users of social media services; and
(c) suspend clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-10, notwithstanding the Committee's decision of March 26, 2021, until it has received the updated “Charter Statement” requested under paragraph (a) and has heard from the ministers invited under paragraph (b).
Mr. Chair, that is the end of my motion. I would reiterate how vitally important it is that this committee composed of legislators do its work responsibly and seek this statement from the .
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to start by saying that I agree entirely with Ms. Dabrusin. The preamble of the motion takes a position that I don't agree with. I think it's a flawed interpretation of the removal of clause 3 of the bill. I also believe, as Ms. Dabrusin said, that the bill will continue to be amended, so for us to stop at each point in the bill, which may not reflect the bill at the end, to ask for updated charter statements is illogical.
Furthermore, and more importantly, let me direct you to the Department of Justice website as to what the rules are with respect to charter statements.
These charter statements, which were put into effect by our government, the Liberal government, basically originally included charter statements only for justice bills. Then, on December 13, 2019, through amendments to the Department of Justice Act, we created a new duty on the Minister of Justice to ensure that a charter statement is tabled in Parliament for every government bill. The charter statements are a transparency measure intended to inform parliamentary and public debate on a bill and help increase awareness and understanding of the charter.
The website explicitly states:
Charter Statements are intended to provide information to the public and Parliamentarians. Although a bill may change over the course of its passage through Parliament, Charter Statements reflect the bill at [the] time of introduction and are not updated.
Let me repeat that. Charter statements reflect the bill at the time of introduction and are not updated. It goes on to say, “Charter Statements are not legal opinions on the constitutionality of a bill.”
For a multiplicity of reasons, then, Mr. Chairman, I am against this motion: number one, that the legislation does not contemplate ever updating a charter statement, and it is explicitly stated that charter statements “reflect the bill at time of introduction and are not updated”; and second, because we are in the middle of a clause-by-clause debate on the bill, and if it were to be updated at any point for whatever reason, if that were permissible, it would make sense to do so only at the end of debate on the bill, once all the amendments had been adopted and one knew what the legislation would look like.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I think this is a very wise move.
To Ms. Dabrusin's point about a new subsection proposed in this bill that protects users—she's referring, I think, to proposed new subsection 2(2.1), which does protect users specifically—the removal of proposed new section 4.1 refers specifically to the programs that users use to upload their content.
We need to be really careful here. Effectively, I think what this is doing is pushing the regulatory impacts onto users. They're actually shifting them to the programs themselves. I think we need to be careful, and frankly, having a new charter statement—a review of this matter—may have tremendous impacts as we continue the clause-by-clause.
I realize the Liberals really want to rush this through and want to get it done, because they didn't do it in the first five years they had, but I think it behooves us to make sure we do this very carefully and make sure that something as fundamental as freedom of expression for Canadians is not hindered in any way by any moves we make here.
This is fundamental to our democracy and our way of life, and to ask a Liberal for a review of it is, I think, a very reasonable compromise to make sure, as we proceed and continue to go clause by clause, that we're doing so while ensuring that we're not in any way infringing on Canadians' fundamental freedom of expression—
Mr. Chair, to Ms. Dabrusin's point, originally there were two sections within this bill that had to do with individuals. One had to do with individual users, and one had to do with the programs those individuals might use to convey their message or the material they're wishing to share.
The section having to do with users is still intact. The section having to do with the programs that users use was removed. If an individual were to use YouTube, Facebook, TikTok or Twitter, they would be held to the regulations within the CRTC in terms of how those programs are used. That is a direct imposition on their freedom.
I'm not necessarily one who is arguing this on my own. In fact, when Ms. Dabrusin first brought forward the idea that clause 3 should be removed from the bill, Mr. Owen Ripley had comments to make in that regard. Mr. Owen Ripley, of course, is the director general of the broadcasting, copyright and creative marketplace branch at Canadian Heritage. These are his words. He said, “Ms. Dabrusin has signalled, the government intends to...repeal...section 4.1”.
At that point, it was only an intent. Now it's been followed through on.
He went on to say:
...meaning that there would no longer be any exclusion for social media services at all.
For the benefit of the committee, in our previous sessions, the committee upheld the exclusion for users of social media companies. In other words, when you or I upload something to YouTube or some other sharing service, we will not be considered broadcasters for the purposes of the act. ...The CRTC couldn't call us before them, and we couldn't be subject to CRTC hearings.
However, Mr. Ripley continued by saying that if the exclusion were to be removed and the proposed new section 4.1 struck down, as it was last week, “the programming we upload onto YouTube, the programming we place on that service, would be subject to regulation moving forward but would be the responsibility of YouTube or whatever the sharing service is.” It is very important to note his words when he said, “it would be subject to regulation moving forward”. Those were his words. This is an expert.
For Ms. Dabrusin to try to mislead this committee, and for the government to try to mislead Canadians into thinking they wouldn't be impacted by this change, is wrong. If they are not scared to have this challenged, then why not allow for a charter statement to be redrafted based on the change that was made last week?
Of course, Mr. Ripley is not the only one who provided that type of commentary. In addition to him, former CRTC commissioner Peter Menzies—and I would hope if we're going to listen to any expert, we would want to listen to him—said that this legislation, “doesn’t just infringe on free expression; it constitutes a full-blown assault upon it and, through it, the foundations of democracy.” That is an extremely strong statement.
He also stated, “It’s difficult to contemplate the levels of moral hubris, incompetence or both that would lead people to believe such an infringement of rights is justifiable.”
Mr. Chair, this is a huge issue. For us to move forward as a committee with little to no regard for wanting to protect the charter rights of Canadians is frightening.
We like the charter. We post it proudly on our walls, as members of Parliament. We talk about it in the House of Commons with passion. We defend it rigorously. At least, that's what we used to do. For us to treat it as if it's just a suggested document rather than the supreme law of the land, is a shame on us.
To suggest we can just move forward, that it's not a big deal or that we will just wait until the end, which probably isn't true, is wrong. It's so wrong. Canadians deserve better. Canadians deserve to have their charter rights protected. Canadians deserve to have the members of this committee wish to seek greater clarity.
Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and the Canada research chair in Internet and e-commerce law, said, “The government believes that it should regulate all user generated content, leaving it to [the] regulator to determine on what terms and conditions will be attached the videos of millions of Canadians on sites like Youtube, Instagram, TikTok, and hundreds of other services.”
He is an expert in this field, and that is what he is saying. He is raising a massive red flag with regard to the part of this bill that was removed last week, which thereby removed protection for individuals and their use of social media and the content they post on the various platforms that are available to them. For us to move forward with little regard for the words spoken by former CRTC commissioner Peter Menzies, or Michael Geist, an expert in this area, or Mr. Owen Ripley, who is the director general of the broadcasting, copyright and creative marketplace branch, and pretend that somehow as individual members of Parliament we know better is incredibly pompous and incredibly irresponsible of us.
We have an opportunity here to do the right thing, so I'm confused as to why members wouldn't wish to do that. Why wouldn't we wish to push the pause button and seek a charter statement? That's simply what we're asking for here. If the charter statement says there is no problem and the bill aligns with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, then I guess it's the prerogative of the government to put the legislation through, if they have the votes within the House of Commons.
The whole point of clause-by-clause is to carefully analyze the legislation that is before a committee, and to ask good questions, seek clarification and make sure we are doing the right thing and acting in the best interests of Canadians. As of right now, based on the things that have been said by the experts I have listed, I am concerned that this bill, as it stands right now with the amendments that have been made, goes too far, and that it does infringe on the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
My request is very simple. I am respectfully asking that we push the pause button, seek a charter statement, move forward after we have that statement and do so in the best interests of Canadians, fighting for their freedom, defending their voices and ultimately standing by what we call the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which in subsection 2(b) offers protection for people's “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression”. That thought, belief, opinion and expression can take place in the reality we call “nonvirtual” and in the reality we call virtual, such as social media platforms or apps. I believe we need to make sure we're contending for that and protecting it, and that we are on the side of Canadians and the supreme law of the land.
I would like to make a comment on Ms. Harder's request, which I consider perfectly legitimate.
We all started out with a willingness to review the Broadcasting Act, which is many years old. When we started, everyone wanted to collaborate with the government. Those who came to talk to us expressed their concerns. They told us about aspects of the bill with which they agreed or disagreed, or which, in their opinion, should be amended.
All members of the committee, from all parties, unanimously agreed to allow members of Parliament the privilege of expressing their views on this bill in the House. Some saw the bill as basically bad, some raised concerns. Members of the committee even agreed to conduct a preliminary study of the bill in committee so as not to hold up the process. The Liberals hinted in the media that we had tried to hold up consideration of the bill, but that was false. It had been agreed that the committee would begin to study the object of the bill and, once the debate in the House was over, the committee would consider the information that had been gathered as it began its official study of the bill.
Everyone was ready to work together, with the objective that the major players in the digital world, such as Netflix, be regulated in the same way as our traditional Canadian broadcasters, as we so dearly like to call them. Everyone shared in that salutary and commendable objective, at the outset.
Subsequently, some criticized the government for not requiring the GAFAs of this world, companies like Facebook, to redistribute money. It was also criticized for not including the CBC's mandate in the bill. We also had the whole issue of hate speech on social media, which the proposes to deal with by means of another bill that will be introduced later.
Through it all, we did our work. Experts came to testify before the committee. A few weeks ago, we then began the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill. If my figures are correct, about 118 amendments were proposed by all parties: 37 by the Green Party, 37 by the Bloc Québécois, 27 by the government itself and by the Liberal members of the committee,14 by the NDP and 13 by ourselves in the Conservative Party. As I said, that's 118 amendments. It shows that the bill had a number of gaps from the outset. All the members of the committee worked together to find an acceptable compromise by proposing subamendments. The issue of Canadian content in French, that everyone brought up, as you recall, also had to be dealt with.
So what happened last Friday was a shock for everyone, I would say. No one saw it coming. Although committees are supposed to be independent, the , through his , and other Liberal members who represent him on the committee, decided to eliminate one whole section of the bill, which will have consequences on internet users and influencers specifically. People do not realize that and are only just starting to talk about it. I can tell you that the media in Quebec are not talking very much about what is happening at the moment. However, freedom of expression and the very basis of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are at play for all users, influencers, youtubers, people with a little YouTube channel, who do it as a second job or just as their passion. By taking out that whole section, the power to regulate has just been handed over to the CRTC.
I have a lot of respect for Ms. Dabrusin. She repeated what the said in question period, that such is not the government's intention and I want to believe it. If that is the case, the government would not have had to come to that decision, because now we are not talking about the same thing at all. It is no longer a bill intended to submit the major digital players to the same regulations as conventional broadcasters. A big hole has been opened up, with no guidelines, by giving the entire power to the CRTC, which is out of our control. Actually, as soon as we have anything to say against that organization, we are told that we have to listen to it and let it do its work, because it's independent.
Basically, our work is to make sure that the bill imposes a tight framework to protect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That should also be the raison d'être of every member of the House of Commons.
Some might wonder whether this is an opposition attempt to prevent the bill from being passed. That is not the case at all. The opinions we have heard this week have come from experts. Ms. Harder named some of them, and I don't want to quote their comments again, but they include Michael Geist, an emeritus law professor at the University of Ottawa. Some might wonder whether that professor is going overboard when it comes to the bill, but no. I am sorry to disappoint you, but he is very well recognized in his area. He is so well recognized that, as I dug into the registry of grant programs supporting research and professors in their work, I found that the Liberal government had paid that professor several hundred thousand dollars. I am not saying that he received money to which he had no right. On the contrary, he received it because of his expertise in the area. In 2020, or to be more precise, on April 1, August 15, February 8, and September 1, he received more than one hundred thousand dollars for his work. He is therefore a credible expert who is showing us a warning light when he states clearly that we have before us “the most anti-Internet government in Canadian history”. I am not an expert in the area, but I can say that the warning light is yellow and may even be about to turn red. As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to put a foot on the brake and examine the situation.
We can add what Mr. Menzies said. He is a former commissioner of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, whose reputation in the area cannot be questioned.
I would also like to draw the attention of all committee members and to the people listening to us that Daniel Bernhard, the Executive Director of Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, who has come to talk to us on several occasions, has been sending warning signals since we started. Just look at page 3 of the report that the organization submitted to the committee. Before we even started to propose amendments, the organization was already shedding light on the risk posed by eliminating subsection 4.1, which the bill was proposing to add to the Broadcasting Act. By eliminating it, we have ripped away an essential element of protection from internet users all over the country.
Let us not even mention the host of experts, university professors and political analysts who have been waving red flags, not yellow ones, since the beginning of the week, telling us that, by agreeing to eliminate this section, we have just dug ourselves a hole.
With all due respect to my colleagues, I consider that Ms. Harder's request is perfectly legitimate. There's nothing partisan about it. It asks the , himself a member of the Liberal Party, to submit a new Charter statement to follow the one, which he himself wrote, stating that the bill we are currently studying is supposed to provide protection for the users.
I venture to think that our committee, whose members have been working together from the outset, will have the wisdom to say that it has made a mistake. If the is operating in good faith and, as he states, the consequences of eliminating that section are not those that he wants, let's look at our decision again. It will not prevent things from moving forward, because I don't think we will be passing Bill in a week. The Liberal government will soon have been in place for six years. During that time, it has prorogued Parliament. The committee has done everything it can to make sure that things roll along. We have wasted not one minute in the legislative process. Let me emphasize that all members of the committee have worked to move this bill forward.
I hope that the will stop his empty rhetoric, in suggesting that we may have said things in the past when we have not. Right from the start, the minister told us that the GAFAs were going to be included in the bill, which was completely false. Today, by trying to correct a mistake, he has made another one by asking the committee to eliminate subsection 4.1.
I repeat, if we want things to roll along nicely, let's just pass this motion. Then, first, we will be able to ask the to provide us with an updated Charter statement and, second, we can listen to what the and the have to tell us. Then we will be able to resume our work with a view to passing the bill on the Broadcasting Act, so that the major players in the digital world are subject to the same regulatory framework as the broadcasters we like to call traditional.
Ms. Harder, thank you for your expertise and your work. I hope that the message you are sending us will allow the committee to make a wise decision, the right decision.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
As you know, I'm a former broadcaster, like many on this committee.
We all know, whether you're from the government side or the opposition side, that needed to be updated. It hadn't been updated in over 30 years. In fact, the Internet wasn't even around the last time this bill came forward. In the last several months we've all talked about this bill.
It was interesting hearing from all the stakeholders. That's all I'm going to say. The stakeholders have been looking at this bill for the last five years. They want a good bill to come out of committee so they can put it on the wall and follow the regulations.
We know that the conventional broadcasters—and we've heard from them in committee—are deeply hurting in this country. It doesn't matter if you're a big supplier of television and radio like Bell or Rogers or if you're just a local radio station by yourself in Kamloops or wherever; you know this bill is major in the industry right now.
This is not only because of COVID-19, although that slowed it up a little, but Mr. Chair, as a former broadcaster, I think you too would agree that the landscape in this country has changed dramatically. It's changed because of the Internet. It's changed because of the digital players. All of us know that. Many of us in this country no longer subscribe to cable. We've seen the numbers drop, and maybe for good reason. They're getting their news now from Facebook. They know what their families are doing across this country because of Facebook.
When you seek a charter statement on this.... I don't know about you, but I've had literally 200 to 300 calls and emails this week, specifically since last Friday, from constituents really worried about the rights and freedoms of Canadians.
Many of us go on and upload messages to family. In my statement.... I have a brother out in Vancouver who I haven't seen in maybe four or five years. I have a nephew right now that has made the Prince Albert Raiders. I'm just going to share this with you. They had a bubble in Regina, so I could have maybe gone to see him play. They had a 24-game schedule here in Regina. I couldn't go because of COVID, which I understand.
How do I reach out to my nephew, Niall Crocker, and his family? This is not only me; this is every family in the country. They want the freedom socially to do some of what we have done for years now.
When the proposed section 4.1 was removed last Friday and changed the field, then all of a sudden, holy man.... We've gone into uncharted territory. It's uncharted because when you have a former chair of the CRTC raising a flag.... I can tell you that Ian Scott, the current chair of the CRTC, read his statement. What we don't want, I think, as legislators is the CRTC non-elected telling people in Canada what they can and can't do on the Internet with respect to what they can upload and so on.
I think Michael Geist was right on. Every newspaper in this country—not only the Sun newspapers, but the National Post, the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and so on, has really come to the forefront with this story this week, because it matters to Canadians. The newspaper industry, as we know, is hurting in this country.
I would say this, as a former broadcaster. They probably had more input this week because of this bill than on any other government bill that has been debated in Parliament in the last two weeks. They know it's an infringement of rights.
I agree with Ms. Harder and Mr. Rayes. Maybe we should get a legal opinion from the on the charter statement on rights and freedoms.
For people in this country, because they've been locked down, Mr. Chair—and you know it more than anybody because you're back in the Maritimes right now—this is really hard on them. Particularly in this country, we're fighting anti-maskers and people who don't believe in vaccines, and then all of a sudden this bill hits the airwaves from last Friday and in particular the last five days in this country, and people are up to here. They want their rights and freedoms restored if they've been diminished. This bill, by removing the proposed section 4.1 last Friday, has diminished rights. You might not say that, but it's there.
When you have a former chair of the CRTC raising awareness before we even get to the finish of clause-by-clause, that's enough for me. Mr. Menzies was a well-respected chair of the CRTC for years. Mr. Scott, in his position, I am sure, has had the dialogue over what is happening in committee.
I want to say thank you to Mr. Ripley and all the Heritage staff. You have been magnificent on clause-by-clause, giving an opinion on our amendments going forward and giving us a sense of what is needed in this bill, because we're only going to get one shot at this. This took 31 years to get renewed, and it may take another 31 years to move it forward.
The stakeholders are watching. We know that. We're still getting emails from all our stakeholders who want one-on-one meetings. I'm getting them every day from everybody, in particular over what happened last Friday, with the government removing 4.1.
I'll wrap it up there. I think we need to pause this right now. We can get a clarification from the . I've seen quotes in newspapers. Let's get this bill right. That's why we're here; that's why we got elected. We got elected to do the right thing for Canadians—to bring a bill forward that needs to be updated. All of us on the committee, all 11 of us on this committee, agree that this bill needs to be right.
When we saw what happened this last week with Canadians up in arms over this bill—and they are up in arms over it—I think that was the flag for all of us to say, “Look, let's get an interpretation. Then, once we get that interpretation from the , good or bad, we can move on with this bill.”
We all agree on this committee. We've gotten along so well, and we still are, but we want this broadcasting bill to be right. I see no problem pausing, getting a clarification, and then picking it up and moving it out. We have seven or eight weeks in the House of Commons. What's the difference if we bring this out May 10 or June 10? The difference is that we'd better get it right. Canadians are looking to us to get it right.
That is my comment, Mr. Chair. I appreciate your time and your willingness to hear from all of us here today.