Defenders, critic of Bill C-10 clash over limits for shared social media content

TORONTO — The Liberal government's troubled Bill C-10 got staunch support from several experts on Monday but one of the bill's most vocal critics insisted the legislation is too flawed to be salvaged.

Law professor Michael Geist told the Heritage committee that he remains unswayed by repeated government assurances that Bill C-10 won't pose a risk to Canadians' freedom of speech rights.

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It's "absurd" to suggest user content that's uploaded on social media platform won't be affected if the CRTC is empowered to regulate the platforms as proposed, Geist said.

He pointed to recent amendments to the legislation that would limit the CRTC's authority but allow it to judge whether Canadian content is discoverable on platforms like YouTube.

"What you're saying is that the government, through its regulator, gets to determine what gets priortized. Not a specific piece of content, per se, but it's going to make choices. Elevating some, deprioritizing others," Geist said.

"That clearly has an impact on individual Canadians' expressive rights."

Not so, said Janet Yale, a former telecom executive who headed a government-appointed panel of experts who proposed sweeping updates for Canada's broadcasting and telecommunication laws.

"No one is going to police that content, tell them what they can say, or compel them to pay dues," Yale said.

"What Bill C-10 does require … is that the YouTubes, the Disney Pluses and Netflixes of the world who share that content, make money from distributing (that) content, must operate by a set of rules and contribute some amount of the revenues they're harvesting from Canadians to the production of Canadian content."

She said further amendments proposed last week make it even more clear that the Broadcasting Act, as amended by Bill C-10, won't apply to users who share their content on the big platforms.

Yale said the principle of discoverability of Canadian content that Geist sees as a threat is about promoting Canadian choices, not restricting what users post or choose to see.

"To persist in creating this illusory scare against freedom of expression is either to misunderstand the legislation, in my view, or to intentionally seek to mislead people for some other purpose," Yale said.

The committee's work is scheduled to continue Tuesday with an hour-long session that includes Justice Minister David Lametti.

Earlier Monday, a union representing professional on-screen actors, voice performers and others who earn their living from recorded media, called for MPs to finish work on Bill C-10.

David Sparrow, national president of ACTRA, said in an interview after the committee's hearing that his fear is that the minority Liberal government will call an election or be forced to call an election before Bill C-10 becomes law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2021.

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