OTTAWA — Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault is doubling down on his controversial new broadcasting bill at a parliamentary committee hearing, citing a Justice Department analysis to reiterate the legislation would not affect free speech online.
A charter impact statement from Justice officials this week found that the would-be law, known as Bill C-10, would not encroach on social-media users' freedom of expression.
Opposition MPs remained unsatisfied Friday, however, demanding that Justice Minister David Lametti come before the House of Commons heritage committee to clarify points of contention around the bill.
Work of the committee has been stalled since Liberal MPs on the panel moved to cut a section of the legislation that expressly excluded user-generated content from regulation.
That move quickly stirred angry protests and media commentary, with critics arguing that the change may infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Guilbeault told the committee Friday that the protests are unwarranted and threaten to delay Bill C-10, which he said intends to give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission power to regulate some activities of large social media platforms when they act like broadcasters.
Amendments proposed last week by his parliamentary secretary, MP Julie Dabrusin, clarify that the powers of the country’s broadcasting regulator would be limited to ensuring social media platforms help fund Canadian content and showcase Canadian creators, he said.
“All of this would be done without ever preventing anyone from putting their own content online and sharing it," he said, stating in French that there is "no question of censoring" users' social media posts.
"We’re not targeting individuals. We are targeting the web giants, which are almost all American companies. Our goal is simple: to get these multibillion-dollar companies that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in Canada every year to do their part to make sure our creators and artists are better paid and more visible online."
Opposition MPs zeroed in on the justice minister's absence from the hearing after a unanimous motion Monday invited Lametti and Guilbeault to appear before the 11-member panel.
“I think that the minister of justice is showing a lack of consideration for the charter, to be honest with you," said Conservative MP Kevin Waugh.
Others concurred, with Liberal Anthony Housefather and New Democrat Heather McPherson both saying they were "disappointed" and Conservative Scott Aitchison stating that Lametti's absence shows "contempt" for the committee.
"Makes me wonder if Mr. Lametti can’t defend what’s going on," Aitchison said.
"The minister of heritage has fumbled an awful lot of the answers to these things and created more confusion ... I think Mr. Lametti would be able to help clear an awful lot of this stuff up."
After extensive debate where some opposition members threatened to stop the bill in its tracks until Lametti shows up, the committee agreed to a motion that re-invites him to appear in committee on Tuesday or Wednesday following a hearing with expert witnesses Monday.
Nathalie Drouin, the deputy minister of justice, said Friday that "the guarantees of rights and freedoms under the charter are not affected" by the amended bill.
Guilbeault maintains the legislation has strong support from Canadian cultural industries that want big platforms to showcase Canadian content and pay a share of their revenue to fund programming, as conventional broadcasters do.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2021.
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press