Erin O’Toole: The Liberals’ internet regulation bill opens the door to a massive abuse of power – National Post

Posted: May 9, 2021 at 11:16 am

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Regulating the social media platforms of Canadians should never have been on the table

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If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. When George Orwell wrote those words in the original preface to Animal Farm in the 1940s, the internet did not yet exist. It still didnt years later when Orwell introduced us to the Thought Police and warned of Big Brother watching in 1984.

But his powerful messages continue to resonate decades later because corrupt and authoritarian regimes have proven his writing was sadly never dystopian fantasy. And in the internet age, there are even more opportunities for regimes to monitor and control information, and quiet the voices of the people.

In a democratic society, abuses of power and authority can and should be freely called out without fear of retribution. Social media has rapidly become the key platform for this purpose, from cellphone videos of interactions with police to tweets from inside mass protests. Regulating social media, therefore, directly jeopardizes our ability to continue exercising this critical democratic freedom of expression.

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Orwell's powerful messages continue to resonate decades later

But in the midst of a pandemic, while Canadians are stuck at home and relying on social media for information, connectivity and entertainment more than ever before, the Liberal government is quietly moving to radically change how Canadians can use social media.

Internet advocates, civil liberties lawyers and academics have been highlighting the problems with last-minute Liberal changes to Bill C-10, and the Conservative opposition is demanding action. But the Trudeau governments move raises a fundamental question for us to consider in the internet age. It is the same question that Orwells works left us asking. What kind of a society do we want to live in?

Is it a society where our connectivity through social media leads to greater transparency and accountability? Or are Canadians prepared to have their liberty moderated by the CRTC?

The problem with these questions is not where does your freedom start, but where does it end? The Liberals Bill C-10 is a very slippery slope. Even knowing this type of regulation could take place sends a chill on the free speech rights of Canadians.

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After becoming accustomed to using the internet and social media freely, how could the Trudeau government possibly believe that Canadians are prepared to now have that freedom curtailed through moderation by a government agency? Should a bureaucrat be monitoring your neighbourhood Facebook group or moderating your comments on news stories?

Bill C-10 leaves the door open for a massive abuse of power and infringement on the rights of Canadians. Canadas Conservatives are working hard to stop it and will oppose this bill vigorously.

Regulating the social media platforms of Canadians should never have been on the table and was not at the start of Bill C-10. The original version of the bill had some flaws, but it explicitly exempted everyday Canadian users of social media from regulation. The Liberals changed their mind and quietly opened the door to limiting the freedom of expression online by removing the exemption. Canadians deserve to know why.

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Should a bureaucrat be monitoring your neighbourhood Facebook group?

The internet has become a critical tool for everyday citizens to hold governments to account and have their voices heard. It is leading to social change, allowing the marginalized to have a stronger voice, and has become a great equalizer for citizens without the special access or insider privileges to get through to this Liberal government. That kind of power scares some governments, but it is a part of modern democracy and must be protected.

Without social media users, we might never have seen the Arab Spring in Tahrir Square. We might not have witnessed China cracking down on student protesters in Hong Kong, or be able to follow Russian dissidents as they protest crackdowns on their media and free speech rights. Social media is how this generation is telling the story of democracy. It is to this generation what Radio Free Europe was to the Cold War. That freedom must be preserved.

Canadas Conservatives have asked for a Charter review of Bill C-10 given this major change. The Liberals denied our request and appear ready to make deals with other parties to drive it through. Conservatives support trying to level the playing field between large foreign streaming services and Canadian broadcasters, but not at the cost of Canadians fundamental rights and freedoms.

Erin OToole is the Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada and the Leader of the Official Opposition.

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Erin O'Toole: The Liberals' internet regulation bill opens the door to a massive abuse of power - National Post

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