GUNTER: The danger of regulating online content

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Let’s imagine for a moment that it is possible to regulate the Internet and protect freedom of expression at the same time.

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Even if you could protect free speech by limiting it (you can’t), I wouldn’t trust anyone in Ottawa to be capable of such a balancing act.

The Trudeau government has once again tabled legislation that would give the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) extraordinary powers to ban “legal but harmful” content from news sites, online broadcast, social media and almost any web page.

There is some disagreement between the government and free speech experts over whether the bill excludes individual internet users from government censorship.

The government says the bill explicitly exempts personal pages and posts, but many experts argue that the definition of what constitutes a “business” page is too vague. Many individuals could unexpectedly find themselves considered pros and, therefore, subject to the same regulations (and fines) as the big operators.

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There are also concerns that the bill contains a wrinkle that would allow regulators to consider any personal content posted on a professional site such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube as “professional” and subject to removal without warrant or judicial review.

In addition, online news services, network news producers and newspapers will continue to be told by the Liberals how they should present content.

Canadian content and Canadian news first, for example.

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In an attempt to calm critics and reassure voters, CRTC Chairman Ian Scott told an audience at Ryerson University in Toronto last week that legal experts and ordinary citizens had nothing to fear. of legislation. His committee had no intention of becoming a censor.

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Never in all its years, Scott boasted, has the CRTC been successfully sued over a decision that blocked free speech.

Whoops ! This is legal semantics, not proof of a commitment to free speech.

In addition, federal Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who is responsible for the bill, admitted that the government left many regulatory clauses of Bill 11 deliberately vague. Internet platforms are changing rapidly, Rodriguez explained, so the government has seen fit to give the CRTC carte blanche to evolve regulations with them, rather than having to regularly return to Parliament for changes.

That is, plain and simple, too much power to give to public servants, especially those who are not elected.

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But again, let’s say for a moment that you, like the government, are concerned that there is a lot of hateful and misleading content on the net that makes society more angry and, for example, more difficult to convince to get vaccinated in the middle of a pandemic.

I would always argue that free speech is so vital to democracy that limiting “disinformation” is more dangerous than the potential good that could come from banning supposedly harmful content.

And what happens when it is the government that is guilty of misinformation? It’s hard to imagine the CRTC banning the Internet from government.

During the transport of the truckers, the Liberals were the first peddlers of misinformation.

The Trudeau government claimed the truckers were white supremacists, rapists and arsonists who had illegal shotguns in their rigs. None of this turned out to be true.

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Civil Defense Minister Bill Blair (and other ministers) asserted: “We have seen strong evidence that (the convoy) was a largely foreign funded, targeted and coordinated attack, which was clearly criminally designed to… harm Canadians.

Again, none of them ultimately turned out to be accurate.

Given that most Ottawa officials (perhaps including the CRTC) shared the Trudeauites’ hysterical and ill-informed view of the convoy, it is not hard to imagine the CRTC ordering the removal of the messages and websites that support the convoy, and use the excuse such posts were hateful misinformation.

This is why freedom of expression is too important (and too subjective) to leave in the hands of regulators.

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