Madam Speaker, the Internet is an incredible invention. We have all the information in the world in the palm of our hands. Just as the creation of the printing press in the 1400s changed the course of history forever by allowing information to be disseminated to the masses, rather than just to the elites of society, bringing literacy to millions of people, so too has the Internet revolutionized how we exchange ideas and amplify our voices. It has brought freedom of knowledge and expression to billions of people.
Before the printing press, censorship of dangerous ideas by the elites was easy. All one had to do was round up the heretics who held fringe or unacceptable views, hang them high in town square and burn their handwritten notebooks. With the use of the printing press, dangerous ideas could be shared far and wide, leading to the Protestant Reformation, the scientific revolution, the French Revolution and the age of enlightenment, just to name a few.
Likewise, the Internet and social media have helped spark political revolutions and political movements. They have empowered brave resistance to foreign dictators, like our Ukrainian friends against Vladimir Putin and their courageous fight. Social media has helped empower that and allows for the exchange information at a rapid pace.
We really do live in extraordinary times. This is especially true for our online Canadian content creators. “Influencer” is now a career choice, and Canadian musicians, painters, bakers, commentators and do-it-yourselfers can access billions of people to share their ideas and creations with the click of a button. All one needs is an Internet connection and a smart phone.
Actually, one needs one more thing. They need a government that believes in their freedom to do so. Unfortunately, Canadians are experiencing a government that is trying desperately to control the Internet.
From the very wild and extreme online harms bill, to Bill C-18, the online news act, and now Bill C-11, the online streaming act, which we are debating today, Canada's Liberal government is really butting into every aspect of our online world. It is proclaiming it is here to help and that it will show those big, scary boss streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, who the boss is and save us all from the scary, dangerous ideas on the Internet.
In reality, these three Internet bills all have the same aim, which is to regulate what we see when we open our cell phone apps. Canadians may remember how Bill C-10 exploded in controversy last year, but it died on the Order Paper. It is back now in Bill C-11, and while the Liberals claim they have fixed the concerns we had with Bill C-10, Bill C-11 is really just a wolf in sheep's clothing.
The issue with Bill C-10 was its control of user-generated content, the posts and videos that we share and upload on social media. The Liberals say that issue was removed in Bill C-11, but experts do not agree. Notable communications law professor Michael Geist has pointed out that the CRTC has the power, with Bill C-11, to subject user-generated content to regulation, should it so choose.
If folks at home are asking what the CRTC is, it is the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which has heavily controlled what we have seen on TV and heard on the radio over the past 50 years. Bill C-11 essentially expands the CRTC's powers not only to streaming giants such as Netflix and Spotify, but also to the podcasts, audiobooks and news channels we consume online. It will not just control Canadian-produced versions of those things, but anything coming from anywhere in the world that Canadians want to consume online in Canada.
More than that, Bill C-11, in fact, provides the Liberal cabinet the power to tell the CRTC how to regulate streaming platforms, how to define what Canadian content is and the general policy direction of these Internet controls. It is important to note that cabinet does not have this power currently over TV and radio. This will be a new power. Under the existing law, the CRTC is not directed by cabinet. It is independent, so it can be free from political interference, which is very important. However, this will no longer be the case under Bill C-11. Cabinet will have power over what we see on Internet, which represents an unprecedented expansion of government power.
The bottom line is that Canadian creators have more freedom now, before this bill comes in, than they ever did before with TV and radio. One can become a YouTube star. It is far more accessible than trying to break into network television. Why would the Liberals want to impose the same CRTC regulations they have on TV and radio onto our online platforms? It really does not make sense if we are talking about boosting our Canadian content creators. We know that over 90% of those who are watching our Canadian content are from outside of Canada.
The number of influencers online in Canada earning $100,000 a year or more is rapidly increasing every single year. I really do believe the last thing our online content creators need is the Liberal government sticking its fingers into the regulation controls and messing around with the algorithms that have facilitated the ability of our homegrown creators to share their content with the world.
YouTube, in fact, has alerted the online community and has issued strong warnings to the Liberal government about the negative impacts of Bill C-11, warning that it risks downgrading Canadian content in other countries. If we artificially bump up Canadian content here, and if for whatever reason that Canadian content is not catching the interest of Canadians, the algorithm will actually downgrade that content abroad in competing markets, such as the United States, for example, which a lot of influencers in Canada depend upon.
I do feel that Bill C-11 is not the only thing we need to be worried about. It is worrisome, but there are two other bills as well. There is Bill C-18, which is the online news act, and it has some issues. It has been criticized as interfering in the independence of our news media because it controls how we share news articles on platforms such as Facebook by forcing these platforms to pay news agencies every time we share a news article. Lots of people share news on their Facebook platforms. It is odd this bill would be needed, because this practice is great for news agencies. When one shares their content, it takes us right to their website. It is free advertising.
Australia tried to do the same thing as what is proposed in Bill C-18. Facebook played hardball and banned all sharing of news articles on Facebook until it was able to negotiate something with the Australian government. There are serious issues here. Facebook raised in committee that it is not opposed to doing the same thing in Canada.
Bill C-18 is really just more control from government, but it is not even half as bad as the online harms bill. This is a very scary Internet control bill. In the last Parliament it was known as Bill C-36, and it died on the Order Paper when that unnecessary $600-million election was called, but the Liberals are trying to bring it back again.
It is important to say I welcome a conversation on how we can better fight terrorism organizing online and better enforce existing laws concerning things that are considered fraud, libel, inciting violence, and in particular, child pornography or the sharing of intimate images online without consent. Those are all very important conversations and legitimate issues that need to be addressed.
However, the online harms bill would create a government regulator of speech on the Internet that would decide what is harmful and must be removed. It would be very subjective, depending really on who is behind the curtain dictating what is harmful. Andrew Coyne, in the Globe and Mail, said the bill is “direct state regulation of [online] content”. This is pretty significant.
Twitter said this, which is really concerning:
People around the world have been blocked from accessing Twitter and other services in a similar manner as the one proposed by Canada by multiple authoritarian governments (China, North Korea, and Iran for example) under the false guise of ‘online safety,’ impeding peoples’ rights to access information online.
Twitter is literally comparing this online harms bill to China, North Korea and Iran. It is pretty shocking.
The Liberals are throwing around terms like “misinformation” and “disinformation” whenever they do not like something we say, and we know free speech is constantly under attack. Anything one says these days can offend someone. I am concerned about what bills like Bill C-11 and the online harms bill would do to our freedom of expression online.
Although society has evolved, before the creation of the printing press, the establishment would essentially murder heretics with unacceptable views and burn the books later on. We are not immune to authoritarian control of our freedom of expression.
We would also do well to remember rights and freedoms are not always eliminated in one fell swoop. Often governing authorities will just pick at them bit by bit under the guise of it being for our own good, telling us that they know better than us and they will keep us safe. We have seen this happen in China and it is happening in Hong Kong.
Considering that when he was asked which country in the entire world he most admires, our Liberal Prime Minister said China's basic dictatorship because of its ability to get things done, we should listen when the Prime Minister tells us who he really is. With these three Internet control and censorship bills, I do believe he has made his intentions quite clear. We should all be very, very concerned.