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The Slippery Slope of Internet Censorship

For nearly two years Conservatives raised the alarm about the potential censorship of user-generated content online by the Liberal Government’s Bill C-11.

The Liberal Government claimed their legislation was about “supporting Canadian artists” not censoring their critics. We warned the Liberal censorship law will limit what Canadians can view and listen to, and harm rather than help online content creators. That under this law, home-grown talent and creative content here in Canada will no longer succeed based on merit and what Canadians want. Instead, it will only reach audiences if it meets the criteria set by bureaucrats in Ottawa.

A recent move by the CRTC shows the first steps of exactly the kind of dangerous incremental slippery slope to censorship Conservatives warned about.

Last Friday, the CRTC announced that online streaming and podcasting services operating in Canada would need to register with the government by November 28th.

To be fair, at this time, only entities with revenue of $10 million or more are required to register. The CRTC calls this move a “very light burden, however, as University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist (the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law) states, there is more to come.

While Geist would reject that this move, itself, constitutes censorship, he notes:

“The idea that you potentially would have to register with the Canadian government or with its agency, the CRTC, in order to engage in expression, because you meet a certain threshold for revenue is, I think, a real incursion into expression… [this] runs counter to freedom of expression [Charter] rights without government interference.”

X/Twitter owner Elon Musk blasted the move as “shameful”, stating “Trudeau is trying to crush free speech in Canada.”

Two years of COVID-19 solidified the fears of many Canadians that Canada’s national mainstream media had become little more than an extended mouthpiece for government talking points. The failure to ask tough questions, call out government failures and falsehoods, or offer a platform to any alternative perspective—not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars the Liberals were giving them—led many to believe the mainstream media were bought and paid for. This led many Canadians to seek access to alternative sources of information online. While these sources can be just as biased or manipulated (or at times just plain wrong), a multitude of Canadians find them more trustworthy than the mainstream media for the simple reason that they ask tough questions of the government and other structures of power.

Online sources like podcasts can play an important role in re-democratizing our democracy by offering a platform to individuals who offer different perspectives than the existing narratives being propagated by the structures of power.

Of course, there needs to be some commonsense censorship online such as dealing with illegal behavior like child pornography or those inciting terror and violence. I will also concede, as anyone who has read an online comments section or been on X/Twitter can attest, some individuals disqualify themselves from being taken seriously on public platforms. These platforms, thus, provide the opportunity for the general public to reject such ideas for themselves, rather than a small group of Ottawa bureaucrats deciding what content Canadians can and cannot see.

Podcasts also allow candidates (particularly long shot or non-traditional candidates) for office to get their message out to millions of listeners in a way never before available.

Candidates across the political spectrum have utilized podcasts to get their message out, and why not? In a democracy, if your name is going to be on the ballot, voters should get to hear what you have to say—and, ideally, get to hear it from the horse’s mouth. 

When it comes to participation in our democracy, it is important that Canadians feel that we have one. People should be able to get both sides of a story or issue and make a determination as the validity of the ideas being set forth. Folks should be able—and avail themselves of the opportunity—to read widely and varied sources on any given subject. Most things in this life aren’t black and white, and soundbites and clickbait headlines rarely do justice to the complex reality of a given situation.

Unlike the Liberal Government, Conservatives believe Canadians should be treated like adults, not children.

It is deeply disappointing that Conservatives are the only party standing up for freedom of speech online in the House of Commons, as the NDP and Bloc continue to support the Liberals in their efforts to censor the internet.

Conservatives—and only Conservatives—are committed to repealing Justin Trudeau’s censorship and restoring freedom of expression online for all.