As a separatist party, the Bloc boasts that it “speaks for Quebec”. Indeed, the party ‘speaks for the province’, such as against the eastern pipeline and for investment in shipbuilding at Davie. However, Mr. Yves-François Blanchet has decided to support dubious bills, as they have the habit of frequently coming out of our Liberal government. A very worrisome example is Bill C-10, where the Bloc wishes to eliminate parliamentary debate while accusing the Conservatives of partisan obstruction in order to pass this bill quickly before the summer. Presented as a tool that would increase Canadian content – especially French content – on Internet channels such as Netflix, this legislation has been criticized as endangering our democracy.
It is mainly the hate speech clauses that are fuelling the debate. There is a desire to suppress free expression on the Internet in order to foment social cohesion. Although the government claims that individuals (social media users) will not be covered by the law, section 4.1 which provided for such an exemption was removed from the law. A subsequent amendment lacks clear definitions of what a “professional” telecommunications service is and leaves the door open to modifying search algorithms to control what users will see. The determination of who is a professional service is left to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which leaves the door open to total control of the Canadian Internet, Chinese style.
The bill presents a real danger to political speech in Canada: Facebook, for example, is already prepared to censor any political content that users share. This type of exchange is absolutely essential for a democracy to function. Partisan suppression of information and opinions that are deemed hateful by an autocratic committee using its own definition, without recourse and without neutral oversight, will lead us to a totalitarian society where anything deemed politically incorrect by corporate and government decision-makers can now be labeled as “hateful” and deleted.
That’s why Peter Menzies, a former advisor to the CRTC, says that this law “not only limits free speech but is a frontal attack on said, and for that matter, the foundations of our democracy. “Other former CRTC officials agree and have denounced the bill as “heavy-handed. Even Google has expressed concern about the effects of the legislation on the free expression of Canadians. John Carpay of the Centre for Justice for Constitutional Liberties is blunt about the implications of the legislation: “[Minister] Guilbeault is no different from authoritarians in other countries today or in the past. He promises to ‘protect’ Canadians while at the same time abolishing our right to think independently and make our own choices about what is or is not ‘hateful’, ‘harmful’ and ‘damaging’. This is tyranny, not protection. Social cohesion should not be defined as everyone having the same opinion as the Minister or everyone thinking the same way. “
Why does the Bloc ignore what the Minister wants to achieve with this law? Does it find Minister Guilbeault’s anti-democratic tendencies to protect even MPs from “hate speech” because they will often abandon public service because of “online hate content” directed at them trivial? Will criticism of politicians’ ideas or actions now be illegal in Quebec and Canada to protect their feelings? According to the Bloc, there is no longer any concern about this law, since it has been revised in relation to the Charter of Rights. However, this review was carried out by the Minister of Justice – so who thought that the result would not confirm the government’s policies? It is true that the Quebec National Assembly voted unanimously in favour of a declaration supporting C-10. Yet the discussion in Quebec, as well as the Assembly’s motion, focused on the protection of Quebec culture; the dangers that come with this legislation, which would give unprecedented power to the CRTC, were not the focus of the mainstream media’s discussion.
One wonders then, why can’t Ottawa act in favour of Canadian culture while avoiding acting against democracy? The vast majority of Canadians are in favour of free expression over Bill C-10, and those who know about the law, oppose it. Despite this, the Bloc again voted against the inclusion of a clause protecting Internet users during the debate on Bill C-10 on May 31. If this law is only about culture and not about free expression, why not include a clause that says so? Is it possible to hold large Internet companies accountable without imposing general censorship? If the Bloc is no longer willing to defend democracy, we will have to use what democratic power we have left in the next election. The Conservatives have at least said that they will repeal Bill C-10 if it passes without major changes and if they are elected.
Martin Tampier is a blogger and author of several articles and co-author of a book. He is originally from Europe and has been living in Canada since 1999. Engineer by profession, he lives with his wife and son in Terrebonne, QC.