Before I was a disability advocate, I did a lot of policy and advocacy work on net neutrality in Canada. Net neutrality basically means government, or your internet service provider will not be allowed to interfere with online content. I and a very lovely lady by the name of Teresa Murphy filed a complaint into the CRTC when Rogers was slowing down the internet connections of video games. This made national news. The gaming industry later came out in support of Teresa and I’s complaint to the CRTC stating that net neutrality was critical to providing a stable and reliable environment for online gaming. The organization that Teresa and I headed up was later supported by the game publisher Riot Games that was behind League of Legends.
Outside of the gaming references, the first thing that would come to mind when readers visit this post would be that the Trudeau Government is looking to crack down on hate speech. I want to make it clear that is not what the government is currently proposing. The government currently is looking at regulating everything from cat videos to tiktock videos, to advocacy videos posted on social media. Basically, anything and everything will be subjected to review by the CRTC.
This could have a profound impact on the disability rights movement. Many disability rights organizations like Arch Disability Law Centre or the Ontario Autism Coalition rely on providing members of the disability community with invaluable updates through video presentations. These presentations allow the community to learn about their legal rights, and how to advocate government. In Trudeau’s current plan to regulate the internet, these videos would be subjected to review, and/or a take down by the CRTC.
Internet law expert Michael Geist explains the situation in a recent blog post. Disclaimer: I headed up Michael Geist’s York Region Chapter of his Fair Copyright for Canada Movement in 2011/2012:
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage last month and was asked by Liberal MP Tim Louis about “misinformation that somehow this [Bill C-10] would control, or regulate, or censor social media.” Guilbeault responded:
In the case of YouTube, for example, we’re not particularly interested in what people…you know, when my great-uncle posts pictures of his cats, that’s not what we’re interested in as a legislator.
When YouTube or Facebook act as a broadcaster, then the legislation would apply to them and the CRTC would define how that would happen. But really, we’re not interested in user-generated content. We are interested in what broadcasters are doing.
Guilbeault was referring to a specific exception in Bill C-10, the Broadcasting Act reform bill, that excluded user generated content from the scope of broadcast regulation. I previously blogged about the exception, noting its narrow scope. The provision states:
This Act does not apply in respect of
(a) programs that are uploaded to an online undertaking that provides a social media service by a user of the service – who is not the provider of the service or the provider’s affiliate, or the agent or mandatary of either of them – for transmission over the Internet and reception by other users of the service; and
(b) online undertakings whose broadcasting consists only of such programs.
Without this provision, anything uploaded by users – whether cat videos or kids dancing in the kitchen – would be treated by Canadian law as a “program” and subject to CRTC regulation. Government officials confirmed this today at the hearing with Owen Ripley stating:
Ms. Dabrusin has signalled the government intends to repeal, or suggest a repeal, of Section 4.1 altogether, 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.
Canadians have a constitutionally protected right to express themselves online and express political dissent. In provincial politics in Ontario, I’ve worked closely and alongside of Michael Coteau during the Wynne government as a disability advocate. Coteau was a HUGE advocate for the disabled and black communities, both of which will be severely impacted by this decision to regulate the internet. Coteau is currently seeking the federal Liberal nomination for his riding in Toronto, and I call on him to take a stance against his party’s attempt to censor legitimate constitutionally protected political dissent, and legitimate advocacy from regulation by the CRTC.
I would call on Coteau to to reassure the public that if elected he will ensure that user generated content is subjected to the appropriate legal authorities if it is a hate related, and that the CRTC is not the governing body to determine what stays up on social media and what doesn’t. We have due process in this country for a reason. The CRTC is not the appropriate avenue to determine what is constitutionally protected speech and what is not. This is a very dangerous direction to our constitutional democracy and rule of law the federal Liberals have taken.