Thank you, Mr. Chair.
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 Minister 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 Minister, through his Parliamentary Secretary, 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 Minister 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 Minister of Justice, 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 theMinister 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 C-10 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 Minister 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 Minister of Justice to provide us with an updated Charter statement and, second, we can listen to what the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Justice 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.