How important is free speech to you?
I don’t mean hate speech or speech that invokes riots or insurrection. There are laws against that and rightly so. No, what I am talking about is the normal expression of opinion and ideas, whether or not it is something you agree with or want to hear. To what extent do you want government, any government, controlling what you can read or what you can say?
If, like me, you value free speech and the free expression of opinion, subject only to criminal liability as a fundamental tenet of democracy and human rights, then you had better pay close attention to Bill C-10 that the Trudeau Government is attempting to push through parliament.
Bill C-10 started out innocently enough. Its original objective was stated to ensure that digital streaming services—enjoying booming revenues from online traffic—contribute to the creation, production and promotion of Canadian content (CBC News). Fair enough, so far. Some may disagree with government dictating what its citizens should watch, but it is a legitimate role for the federal government to promote and protect Canadian culture.
To accomplish this, Bill C-10 would give the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC), a government appointed agency, the power to regulate content posted to social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, including videos.
The original Bill C-10 specifically exempted user-generated content posted to social media sites from CRTC regulation or oversight.
Again, fair enough as far as it goes, but here is the kicker. In recent days, the Trudeau Government proposed an amendment to Bill C-10 by removing the critical exemption for user-generated content, thus giving the CRTC regulatory power over content posted by individuals. When this proposal came to a parliamentary committee for debate, the Liberals, along with a few of their friends, shut it down.
Whether the government intended it or not (and they say they did not), the CRTC, without this exemption, will have the power to essentially censor freedom of expression by individual users of the internet. They would be able to regulate the posts of a growing majority of ordinary Canadians who use online services.
Even the prospect of this is totally unacceptable. Perhaps innocent-sounding at first, but with far-reaching implications. The CRTC for all intents and purposes is a government-controlled agency, in spite of its so-called arms-length status. The government appoints its members and the government determines its legislative responsibilities. The government knew exactly what it was doing when it removed this exemption from Bill C-10.
Those who are prepared to blink at this because they support the government currently in power should think again. This legislation, without an exemption, steps clearly on the right of individuals to say what they want within existing law, without oversight or regulation. One may not worry about this government abusing that, but what about the next one? Think about that.
In my view, there should be absolutely no role for government in controlling or influencing free speech beyond laws that deal with hate speech and incitement. Everything else is fair game and, frankly, none of government’s business.
That is a why I also object to subsidizing mainstream media (with the exception of pandemic issues) with government funds. As an acquaintance of mine and a former political strategist opined, to be successful, reporters learn early to go easy on the home team. All news outlets in my view, whether print, online, or television, should be entirely free of government support or influence.
And, yes, while I know I will lose some of you here, that includes, in part, the CBC. Certainly not all of it. The CBC has many facets that promote Canadian culture and deal with many issues not seen in other mainstream media. These facets of CBC deserve government financial support.
But when it comes to political news, opinion, and influence, I draw the line. The old saying, “He who pays the piper calls the tune” certainly applies here. As long as CBC political affairs are subsidized by government, we all know who the home team will be. In reality, we see it every day.
To be clear, I am not saying that the CBC should be banned from political news and commentary. I am saying they should not be subsidized by government for it. This division of their operations should compete for advertising revenue in the free market with all other media outlets, without subsidy or influence from government. And then they can say what they want. But the government should not be in a position to manipulate the media.
Bill C-10 while purporting to be all about supporting Canadian culture is also being used to give the government, through the CRTC, the ability to control a considerable aspect of freedom of expression for Canadians. This is not paranoia. This is fundamentally wrong.
I sincerely hope that all Canadians, of every political stripe, who value their civic rights will stand up and say so. We need to remember that what goes around, comes around.
If we fail to stop this now, eventually it will come along to bite us all in the butt.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc. and enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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