Rights of social media users upheld in Bill C-10: Department of Justice
OTTAWA -- The Department of Justice has concluded that recent amendments to Bill C-10 would not restrict the freedom of expression of social media users under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It comes as the Liberals face scrutiny for removing and refusing to reinstate an exemption from the bill that protected individuals’ online content from its proposed Broadcasting Act, prompting the free speech concerns.
Through Bill C-10, the government is seeking to make changes aimed at ensuring major social media platforms and streaming services such as Netflix, Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, and Spotify pay their fair share towards Canadian artists and are held to similar standards as regular broadcasters.
Though, a series of miscommunications from the minister responsible over what amendments to the bill would mean for everyday users of these services and platforms prompted MPs to agree to have justice officials re-examine whether the proposed legislation was still in compliance with the Charter.
In the new analysis, the department states that because a separate regulation exemption for individual users remains intact in the current draft of Bill C-10, people who post to social media or streaming services who are not the province of said service, “would not be subject to broadcasting regulation in respect of the programs they post.”
Further, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) new regulatory powers in the bill “would be limited... and these requirements could only be imposed upon the social media service,” and would have to “be interpreted and applied in a manner consistent with freedom of expression.”
Ultimately, in the justice department’s view, its initial Charter statement findings “remain valid,” and are not impacted by the proposed changes to Bill C-10.
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, David Taylor, a spokesperson for Minister of Justice David Lametti, said the minister “is confident that both the bill as tabled, as well as the proposed amendments, are consistent with the Charter.”
The House of Commons’ heritage committee is studying the bill and has requested the presence of Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Lametti, as well as seeking additional expert witness testimony before MPs resume clause-by-clause. Guilbeault is slated to appear on Friday alongside a series of heritage department officials.
Earlier this week, Guilbeault walked back comments that under the bill, the CRTC could impose discoverability regulations on individuals who have a large-enough following online.
In a new statement sent to CTV News late Sunday night, the minister said he used “unclear” language when he referred to people and online channels being subject to federal regulations as part of the government’s updates to the Broadcasting Act.
In the interview on CTV’s Question Period that aired earlier that day, the minister said more than once that while the CRTC isn’t going to be regulating everyday users’ content, the regulator could have powers related to the discoverability of online content for people whose channels have “millions of viewers,” are “generating a lot of money on social media,” and are “acting like broadcasters.”
Specifically, the regulations in question would have implications for the content algorithms that suggest what users should watch or listen to next on social media or streaming platforms such as Instagram, Tik Tok, or Spotify.
“Occasionally these suggestions would include Canadian music or Canadian television or film. It does not mean the CRTC would dictate, limit or prohibit a feed or what you can post, watch or listen to on social media. As the Internet is infinite, discoverability won’t limit the content you see on a feed – it will just add more,” Guilbeault said in his updated comments.
That said, this still would have implications for what everyday users see online.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and his caucus continue to oppose the legislation, announcing on Thursday that should Bill C-10 pass as currently worded, he’d repeal it if his party forms the next government.
“[The bill] leaves the door open for infringement on the rights of Canadians…we will oppose this bill vigorously but let me be perfectly clear, if this bill passes a Conservative government will repeal it,” he said. “It’s unfair to trample on the rights of Canadians, to try and mislead them by saying they must accept regulation of their social media in order to help artists.”