Internet Society open letter claims federal online regulation proposals could curtail freedom, innovation

In a recent letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Internet Society, a nonprofit group advocating for an open Internet, sharply criticized several of the federal government’s recent policies and proposals related to regulating the Internet.

“Why is your government now making uninformed decisions that threaten to undermine the Internet and innovation in Canada?”

The open letter, which was signed by Canadian tech ecosystem members, policy experts, and academics, specifically calls out Bill C-10, online harmful speech legislation, and proposals to block content at the network level, as having potentially harmful implications on freedom and Canadian innovation. Signatories include Nasma Ahmed, director of the Digital Justice Lab; Michael Geist, Canada research chair in internet and e-commerce law; and Bianca Wylie, co-founder of Tech Reset Canada.

“Now more than ever, all members of Canadian society rely on the Internet,” the letter stated. “A recent series of proposals and actions taken by your government threaten to adversely impact our freedom to access online content of our choice, to post legal content without fear of censorship, and even risk disrupting the technical infrastructure of the Internet.”

The letter comes as Bill C-10, which proposes several amendments to the Broadcasting Act, has become a target of criticism in recent weeks. The legislation proposes several amendments to the Broadcasting Act, which would bring major streaming sites, such as Netflix, under similar Canadian content regulations that govern traditional broadcasters. Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has argued the legislation is meant to target foreign streaming companies and social media sites.

Experts have said the legislation is part of the Liberal government’s push to regulate Big Tech companies, such as Google and Facebook. One part of the bill would require these streaming companies to show more Canadian content. Experts such as Janet Yale, chair of the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review panel, have said the bill seeks to promote content that is reflective of Canada, rather than hinder Canadians’ freedoms.

Members of Canada’s tech community have acknowledged that Canadian content creators face a “discoverability” problem. Canadian entrepreneur and speaker Amber Mac said in a recent series of tweets that while Bill C-10 is not necessarily the solution, individuals and small businesses producing Canadian content need more visibility.

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As the debate over Bill C-10 continues, the federal government is also considering additional proposals that the Internet Society’s letter said could also curtail freedom.

The Liberal government has proposed legislation that could include new rules for online speech. These regulations would address hate speech, inciting violence, child sexual exploitation, terrorism, and non-consensual online distribution of intimate images.

Last month, the government launched a public consultation on how online intermediaries, such as internet service providers (ISPs), can protect against liability for copyright infringement. The government is considering several options to crack down on online piracy, such as allowing ISPs to block websites that show pirated content.

In a statement, Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne said, through this public consultation, the government is looking to “strike the balance between facilitating broad, lawful access to copyright-protected content, and safeguarding individual rights and freedoms in an open Internet.” The consultation is open until May 31.

“In 2017 you committed to protecting an open Internet and net neutrality. Late last year you pledged to connect 98 percent of households in Canada to high speed Internet by 2026,” the Internet Society’s letter stated. “Why is your government now making uninformed decisions that threaten to undermine the Internet and innovation in Canada?”

“We understand that some online regulation may be necessary, and that policies need to be updated,” the letter added. “But decisions about Canada’s Internet policy can’t be taken lightly – they have social, economic and cultural implications and could harm the technical foundation that makes the Internet work for everyone.”

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.