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Canada passes online censorship bill

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Canada’s Senate has passed Bill C-11 (Online Streaming Act), which critics refer to as “the internet censorship bill,” along with several amendments.

The bill passed in the third reading with 43 votes in favor and 15 against, which means it is now inching ever closer to becoming law since in the next step it goes back to the House of Commons, which will consider the amendments.

Related: Canadian Senator blasts censorship bill

The government proposed the bill as a way to amend the Broadcasting Act by modifying Canada’s broadcasting policy, and give the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) new powers as a regulator.

Opponents of the bill, including Conservative politicians and advocacy groups, however, see it as a way to increase the government’s ability to censor online speech it dislikes.

The effort to bring this legislation to life in Canada has quite a story behind it: initially, the Online Streaming Act, then known as Bill C-10, passed in the House of Commons in June 2021 but failed in the Senate.

It made a comeback as Bill C-11 in February 2022, got cleared by the House in June, and finally last week made it through the Senate.

Reacting to the latest vote on the bill, Conservative Senator Denis Batters took to Twitter to slam both the legislative institution – calling it (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau’s “fake ‘independent’ Senate,” while referring to the bill itself as “awful.”

Supporters believe that once it becomes law, the bill will be beneficial for legacy media competing with digital outlets, and improve the “discoverability of Canadian content” on major international platforms.

Opponents, however, think that the CRTC will gain broad new powers without proper oversight by either the government or parliament.

Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms founder and president John Carpay says that the goal of the bill, on the face of it, is not the issue, since it is supposed to give the CRTC authority over companies like Netflix, Disney, and similar giants.

However, that authority will not end there, Carpay said, trotting out the same statement that has been made for months.

“Rather, the OSA (Online Streaming Act) will empower the CRTC to assume jurisdiction via regulation over any ‘program’ (audio or audiovisual online content) that is ‘monetizable’ because it ‘directly or indirectly generates revenues’,” Carpay added.

And that, according to him, includes private citizens.

“In the long run, the CRTC could end up regulating much of the content posted on major social media, even where the content is generated or uploaded by religious, political, and charitable nonprofits,” Carpay commented.

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